Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - The government says the economy is weakening yet again and unemployment claims are rising, but President Obama is going about business as usual.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits jumped by 10,000 last week to nearly 400,000.

And the Commerce Department said the economy grew at a snail's pace 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year -- slower than the government's earlier estimate.

Despite all those glowing, exaggerated stories on the network nightly news shows that the Obama economy was taking off, Commerce officials discovered a grimmer and more negative reality in their latest numbers. Consumers were spending less than was once thought, the U.S. trade deficit shot up, and businesses aren't restocking as much because of unsold inventories.

With Election Day a little more than five months away, the Gallup Poll continues to find the weakening Obama economy and high unemployment levels remain far and away the overriding issue for most Americans. No other issue comes close.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms that finding, with more than half of the voters calling the economy and jobs the "single most important issue" before the country.

But Obama continues to campaign merrily about the country as if this 800 pound gorilla of an issue didn't exist. He doesn't talk about it. He doesn't complain about it. He doesn't bemoan it. He isn't seen doing anything about it, except to blame the previous administration.

The Democratic leadership up on Capitol Hill, which controls the U.S. Senate, is similarly mute on the issue of jobs and the economy, praying things will get better on their own before November.

It is going to take more than prayer to get this economy up and running again, it's going to take aggressive, pro-job, pro-investment policies. But the so-called "party of the working class" hasn't a clue about what it takes to create economic growth and spur risk-taking private investment.

As for Obama, it isn't as if he's been busy doing more important work. There he was this week handing out gold medals to nearly a dozen of his biggest supporters, while insulting Poland with a stupid remark about "Polish death camps," when they were Nazi death camps.

On other days he is bashing Republican Mitt Romney for investing in companies to help get new businesses off the ground, despite Romney's high job creation success rate.

But even Obama, as much as he avoids the harsh daily truth of his feeble economy, can't escape the grim reality of the unemployment rates across the country -- from California (10.9 percent) to Rhode Island (11.2 percent).

The politically devastating evidence of millions of Americans who can't find full time work was on the front page of the Washington Post this week. He couldn't have missed the story.

Beneath a blunt headline that read, "Prime-age workers still lost in the recession's undertow," economics reporter Peter Whoriskey reports that the number of Americans "in their prime-working years" (between ages of 25 and 54) who have jobs was "smaller than it was at any time in the 23 years before the recession..."

The shrinking share of these workers now stands at 75.7 percent.

Before the recession hit, it was at 80 percent.

This disturbing figure, more than any other, Whoriskey writes, "captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects 'missing workers' who have stopped looking for work and aren't included in the unemployment rate."

When he talks about the unemployment rate coming down, Obama never talks about these long discouraged, jobless workers who are never added to the monthly unemployment rate. But Whoriskey says "huge numbers are on the sidelines."

"What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a far-left think tank. She estimates the number of missing workers at about 4 million.

The immensity of this economic issue is hard to hide, though the White House, the president, the Democrats in Congress are doing their best to distract voters with other issues that are of little if any concern to most Americans.

About 83 percent of the voters polled by the Post in mid-May said the Obama economy was "poor" or "not so good," reflecting higher negative ratings than in the entire decade preceding the recession.

But the Obama administration is getting a lot of help from the network news programs who have gone to great lengths to bury this story for as long as possible.

With the exception of the monthly unemployment report, most of the network news shows have done little in-depth, serious reporting about the breadth of unemployment in the U.S. in the past three and a half years of Obama's presidency.

And when they do address the subject, they go out of their way to deal with one business that has created some jobs, but not with the bigger picture of the tens of millions who can't find any jobs or are underemployed in part-time, low wage or temporary work and their desperate financial circumstances.

NBC and ABC have been among the worst on this score throughout the Obama presidency. To its credit, the CBS Evening News has aggressively dug into the jobs issue far more aggressively under its new anchor Scott Pelley.

The network news shows this week devoted relatively lengthy segments to irrelevant stories such as Donald Trump's bombastic fascination with Barack Obama's birth certificate, suggesting this an issue that can hurt Romney who dismisses it out of hand.

Over the top network reports such as these "makes clear how deep the media are in the tank for Obama," writes Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is intensifying his focus on the economy and jobs, knowing these are the issues that will decide this election.

Obama may not want to talk about his failed record on these two issues, but he's going to be held accountable for them at the ballot box in the end.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.