Donald Lambro

With worker wages flat, in some cases even falling, and household budgets getting squeezed by the higher payroll tax and gas prices, the consumer slowdown could last for months to come.

New surveys of business activity have also delivered some bad news. The National Association of Purchasing Managers' index of U.S. manufacturing activity dropped to 51.3 in March. It's over 50, which means manufacturing is still growing, but "it implies a slowdown," Bloomberg said.

Consumer confidence was evaporating, too, according to the University of Michigan's surveys. It fell sharply from 78.6 to 72.3 points. That puts it on the same level we saw in 2009 and 2010.

The nation's biggest banks are reporting a decline in home loan applications, another worrying sign that the ballyhooed housing recovery may be weakening. Loan applications fell 8 percent at JP Morgan Chase in the first quarter and 8 percent at Wells Fargo.

According to a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, younger adults "are becoming less likely to take out loans to buy a house or a car" because of rising student loan debt. With half of all college graduates unable to find good-paying, full-time jobs commensurate with their education and skills, this is a trend line that's only going to get worse as time goes on.

These and other bearish signs have sent Wall Street on a frightening roller-coaster ride that has pounded the stock market and sent the price of gold into a nose dive.

"None of the economic data has been very good for the last couple of weeks," Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vt., told Reuters. "I wouldn't say this is over yet, but there are enough indicators out there to really indicate that investors should approach this market with a degree of caution."

America faces many challenges right now, but with so many Americans out of work (more than 12 million) and millions more long-term unemployed who have given up looking for a jobs, no issue is more important right now than strengthening America's economic health.

Tragically, it's an issue the Obama administration is ignoring and seems likely to continue to ignore because it has been able to get away with it.

Obama decisively won a second term, despite persistently slow economic growth and severe unemployment. That didn't hurt him then, and the White House doesn't see it hurting him now.

The national news media make no effort to connect a declining economy to the president's policies or the lack of them, for that matter. As far as the nightly news reporters are concerned, Obama is on one planet, the economy is on another, and one has nothing to do with the other.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, the president's chief economic adviser, sent the unmistakable message earlier this month that the administration isn't to to blame for our economy's woes; it's Europe and China.

Lew toured major global capitals from Bonn to Beijing, urging their leaders to take steps to boost their economic growth. I can imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinking, "He has a lot of gall telling us to increase growth, when his country is growing at less than 1 percent."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts that 2013 will be another year of weak growth, and we will not achieve full employment until the end of 2017.

Barack Obama, of course, will be out of office then, and a new chief executive -- presumably someone who knows how to put America back to work -- will be in charge of our economy.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.