Obama Sails On, Oblivious to Economic Paralysis

Donald Lambro

4/19/2013 12:01:00 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The national news media have been in hyper-drive since President Obama's inauguration, trying to convince us that the U.S. economy is getting stronger.

The network news anchors dug up every half-baked statistic they could find to prove Obama's dismal economy was getting better. We now know it was all political hype to sustain their bogus claims.

The liberal Washington Post, one of the president's biggest media boosters, tried to put a hopeful face on the economy's mediocre numbers, but now admits what any long-term unemployed worker will tell you: This economy stinks.

"For the third year in a row, the nation's economic recovery seems to be petering out," the Post reluctantly reported in a front-page story Wednesday. "Hiring has dropped off. Shoppers are putting away their wallets ...

"That has fueled predictions of an abrupt slowdown over the next few months," the newspaper said. "Economists are forecasting tepid growth of just over 1 percent during the second quarter of the year."

In fact, the economy was in a slowdown well before this year. Economic growth (if you can call it that) plummeted to a pathetic 0.6 percent in the last three months of 2012, just when voters were rewarding Obama with a second term. But, then, the Post is a slow learner.

The bleak economic statistics over the past three weeks or so show an economy that remains in decline and one that isn't going to climb out of its slump anytime soon. And the president, after four painful years of economic failure, isn't doing anything about it.

The puny 88,000 jobs that were created last month were an embarrassment for an administration that was hoping for a figure of more than 200,000 -- a rate that in itself would still not be enough to bring the nearly 8 percent jobless rate down to more normal levels in the next few years.

Employers, fearing higher taxes, rising health care costs under Obamacare and a weakening economy, are either not hiring workers or employing more temporary workers.

More than 500,000 long-term unemployed workers told the Bureau of Labor Statistics in March that they had given up looking for a job. That meant, under BLS rules, they're not counted among the unemployed. So the jobless rate fell a notch.

Then came the decline in retail sales, the most in nine months, and the most dramatic evidence to date of a sharp slowdown in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of our economy.

"Retail spending is now growing at its slowest pace since the end of the recession," said the Bloomberg news service.

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.