It’s amazing what you can get used to.
Looking back a few years, the unemployment rate in April 2004 was 5.6 percent when presidential candidate John Kerry announced that then-President George W. Bush sported “the worst economic record since the Hoover administration.” When voters went to the polls four years later, a big reason Barack Obama prevailed is that unemployment had soared. To 6.8 percent.
Ah, but these days we’re almost immune to bad economic news. When the Labor Department announced that July’s jobless rate had climbed to 8.3 percent, it barely earned a mention on CNN. With the Olympics going on, and Harry Reid tossing around allegations about Mitt Romney, hours rolled by before the network could find the time to zero in on unemployment.
That’s a shame because, in recent years, our political leaders have been taking too many wrong turns.
As Amy Payne wrote on The Heritage Foundation’s blog, “The [Obama] administration’s foot-dragging on free trade agreements has killed job creation. The extended moratorium on oil drilling, followed by new regulations, killed job creation. President Obama's refusal to build the Keystone XL pipeline killed jobs. Ever-expanding Environmental Protection Agency regulations kill jobs. Extending unemployment insurance -- part of the failed ‘stimulus’ -- was a humanitarian gesture, but it killed jobs. Even increasing deficit spending has a job-killing effect, the opposite of what Obama espouses.”
Meanwhile, local political leaders are doing their part to discourage job creation as well.
For example, the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A wanted to open a new location in Chicago. But after a Chicago alderman read some comments by the chain’s CEO on the importance of traditional marriage (or what many Americans simply call “marriage”), he decided to block the restaurant. “Because of this man’s ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward,” Joe Moreno explained.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.” Empty? That doesn’t seem likely. After conservative commentators encouraged people to visit the restaurants on Aug. 1, the company saw booming sales. “While we don’t release exact sales numbers, we can confirm reports that it was a record-setting day,” company vice president Steve Robinson told the Los Angeles Times.
Yet Chicago politicians, at least in the beginning, didn’t seem to care.
“We alone created 97 jobs this past year and our passion is building leaders for future generations, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs,” the owner of the city’s only existing franchise pointed out. “We are not a corporation -- we are real people and taxpayers, as each Chick-fil-A franchise is independently owned and operated.”
It’s not the first time Chicago has passed on job creation, of course. Union activists and city council members worked for years to prevent Wal-Mart from opening stores in the city. That’s why, for many years, there was only one. “After the West Side store opened in 2006, expansion plans were put on hold when the City Council passed an ordinance that required big-box retailers to pay a minimum of $10 per hour and $3 hourly in benefits,” a local TV station explained last year.
Having been stymied in the city itself, in 2006 the company opened a store just outside Chicago city limits, and people literally lined up to apply for jobs. “The new Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location opening Friday in suburban Evergreen Park received a record 25,000 applications for 325 positions, the highest for any one location in the retailer’s history,” Crain’s Chicago Business reported at the time. Of course, back then unemployment was only about 4.4 percent, so maybe job creation wasn’t as important.
Now that the city has agreed to let it build more stores, Wal-Mart officials say they’ll “create about 1,000 new retail jobs and 200 new construction jobs for Chicago.” It’s a start.
Unemployment hasn’t been less than 8 percent since January of 2009. In those 42 months, we’ve apparently gotten used to sluggish growth. It’s time to make unemployment newsworthy again, by getting that number moving in the right direction. Maybe we can even bring it all the way down to Herbert Hoover-esque, 2004 levels again.
The first step, though, will be to get governments out of the way.