I hate the phrase "jobless recovery." If people are not getting decent employment, there is no such thing as a recovery. It doesn't matter if corporate profits go up, if the Dow Jones rebounds, if Goldman Sachs honchos got record bonuses, if the Gross National Product rises. What matters is whether regular folks are feeling any difference in their lives. And when you hear the phrase "but jobs are a lagging indicator," let's be clear: that's just another way of saying trickle-down economics.
About 20% of adult Americans are either officially unemployed, have given up looking for work, or are involuntarily working part-time or at temporary jobs. As long as that stays true, we can be very clear about what the consequences are:
- Foreclosure rates will keep going up, and housing prices won't start to recover
- State and local government will continue to be broke, and the federal deficit will continue to rise
- Our manufacturing base will continue to be in desperate shape
In other words, our economy -- the real economy -- will not start getting better. I know that the big banks' executives will be getting huge bonuses, and I'm sure they will be spending that money around like manure, making things grow and all that. But the real economy will not be getting any better.
I hope the president understands that, and understands very keenly how much his fate is tied to real people getting real jobs. His political project will be dead in the water unless the real economy -- not Wall Street profits, not the stock market, but real jobs for real people -- starts to get better reasonably soon.
The American people like President Obama so far. They know he inherited a big mess, and they know he's working hard to fix it. They are willing to be patient for awhile. But they don't want to be the ones who are the lagging indicators.
There are some very specific things our government can do to create jobs: invest a lot more in infrastructure projects and green jobs, for example. Give the same kind of help to emerging industries that virtually every other industrialized country does. Negotiate tougher with China on currency manipulation. This ain't rocket science, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later.
There is a populist backlash brewing in this country. Folks are going to blame somebody for this economy. I would personally rather it be the banks than President Obama, but that will only be the case if President Obama is making real progress on jobs.