John F. Kennedy broke some sort of record for stating the obvious when he noted that "life isn't fair." More evidence for the unfairness of the nation's evaluations of presidents emerged in a recent Washington Post poll showing that, five years after he returned to Texas, George W. Bush is still blamed by 50 percent of Americans for the current state of the economy. Only 38 percent hold President Barack Obama responsible. The lesson for future presidents appears to be: You may be one of the greatest humanitarians in the history of the world (as Herbert Hoover arguably was, and as was Bush in some ways), but if you're in office when a financial crisis hits, the public will blame you forever.
The press and academia have provided explanations and justifications for the economy's sluggishness during the past five years -- rationalizations that tend to exonerate Obama for the fact that, for example, annual growth remains very low by historical standards, and the labor force participation rate has dropped every year since 2009. It is now at the lowest level since 1978. We've been assured that the aging of baby boomers accounts for the high numbers leaving the labor force. But as Michael Strain notes in National Affairs, the labor force participation rate for the ages 25-54 cohort has hardly recovered at all since 2009 -- though the recession officially ended in June of that year.
The Obama administration frequently cites economists who argue that recoveries from financial crisis-induced recessions are slower than those from other recessions. Economic historians Michael Bordo of Rutgers University and Joseph Haubrich of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland have produced data for recessions going back to 1882 and find that recoveries from past financial crises were more than four times stronger than this recovery has been.
Obama has proclaimed, one loses count of how many times, a pivot to jobs. Apparently, that theme is passe. He's now pivoting to inequality. Any more pivots and he'll be doing a pirouette.
Republicans and conservatives stiffen at any mention of fighting inequality -- and for good reason.
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