WASHINGTON -- The resilient U.S. economy remains the envy of the industrialized world, but it gets no respect from a majority of the American people.
The economy is healthy and growing, unemployment is falling, factory orders are surging, exports are rising, inflation is relatively tame, average hourly earnings have risen, interest rates are low by historical standards, and home sales, despite a cooling off, are still at record levels.
Yet polls show that most Americans think the economy is worse than it was, and a majority of people continue to give President Bush low marks for the job he is doing to correct it.
The Gallup Poll reported last week that the public by better than two-to-one (64 percent to 28 percent) thinks things have gotten "worse" in the last five years, and about half of those who think so say "it's because of an economic-related factor." Notably, among those who said things have gotten better, 42 percent pointed to an improved economy and jobs.
Still, Bush's overall marks on economic issues are poor (in the high 30s or low 40s) and the question is -- why? White House advisers think his numbers are driven down by Iraq, and as long as that remains a divisive issue among Americans, it will continue to pull Bush's other scores down with it.
But I think more is going on here that just the war in Iraq. Americans clearly have a disproportionately sour view of the economy that is sharply at odds with reality, at least on a national basis. One can understand why voters in Michigan, for example, think the economy stinks -- because of the state's nearly 7 percent jobless rate, or in Mississippi where unemployment is over 9 percent.
When seen from a higher elevation, however, a sharper picture of the nation's economy comes into focus. It can't be seen through one state's statistics, or even in short-term data, but instead must be viewed over the entire five years of Bush's presidency. And on this basis, the best numbers we have show a healthy entrepreneurial economy -- though, unfortunately, that's not the way it is reported on the nightly news or by the rest of the news media.
Let's look at the stats:
-- The unemployment rate in January fell to 4.7 percent as employers stepped up their hiring across the board -- in construction, manufacturing, professional and business services, education and health care -- adding nearly 200,000 jobs to the labor force. Since 2003, when the tax cuts were fully implemented, 4.7 million jobs have been created.
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