The recession is over, we are told. The Commerce Department announced Thursday that the economy grew in the third quarter of 2009 by 3.5 percent. Great, huh?
Maybe not. About half that growth came from the Cash for Clunkers program, which transferred into the third quarter auto sales that would have occurred later. The expiring tax credit of $8,000 for first-time homebuyers stimulated some house sales. Most of the impact of the $787 billion stimulus package, we are told by the Obama White House, has already been felt.
"There were few signs in the new data," writes The Washington Post's Neil Irwin, "that the private sector will be able to sustain that growth once the government pulls back." Or, as Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal, "No one has any faith in these numbers."
And no one has much confidence that unemployment, which hit 9.8 percent in September, will decline significantly any time soon -- or that the policies of the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will stimulate the creation of new jobs.
Higher tax rates on high earners, which will take effect when the Bush tax cuts expire next year, will certainly not create jobs. The taxes and increased federal spending in the Democrats' health care bills won't, either. Nor will the increased cost of energy that would be imposed by the Democrats' cap-and-trade legislation.
As for the stimulus package, blogger Daniel Blatt notes that twice as many Californians filed for unemployment benefits last week than the total number of California jobs that were "created or saved," as estimated by recovery.gov.
So we may be facing an extended period of high unemployment with a liberal government in office. An interesting question for political analysts -- and elected politicians -- is what effect this will have on public opinion.
History gives us some clues. The one similar extended period that comes to mind was the second term of Franklin Roosevelt, when a serious recession hit the economy in 1937 and unemployment continued stubbornly above 10 percent until wartime mobilization began in the 1940s.
Gallup polls tell us that Roosevelt continued to enjoy positive job approval, significantly above Barack Obama's current level of 52 percent. But Roosevelt's policies fared far worse.