Declining manufacturing orders, anemic, almost nonexistent job creation, and an economy that all but stopped breathing in the first half of this year now constitute a full-blown national crisis at the midway point in Barack Obama's troubled presidency.
In the past two weeks the administration has been hit by a barrage of negative economic data, underscoring a recent nationwide Gallup poll that found 78 percent of Americans think we are already in another recession.
The Commerce Department reported last week that the economy barely grew at a snail's-pace rate of 1.3 percent between April and June, and practically ground to a halt in the first three months of this year, increasing only 0.4 percent. Or, as The Washington Post put it, the economy "essentially stalled" in the first half of this year.
The Institute of Supply Management reports that its manufacturing index fell to 50.6, barely at the 50-point mark indicating growth -- the second decline in three months. The index of the economy's service sector shows that it grew by its weakest pace in 17 months. And the government reported that consumers cut their spending in June for the first time in two years, a stunning sign they have lost confidence that the economy will improve anytime soon.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that "instead of new jobs and renewed economic growth, we've watched as the jobless rate rose in 28 states last month, while ticking up to 9.2 percent."
The Obama economy added only 25,000 and 18,000 jobs in May and June respectively, and Friday's employment report for July was expected to be similarly disappointing. No one, neither the middle class nor the wealthy, is escaping the economy's rapid downfall, including Wall Street. The stock market's plunge since last week has wiped out more than $2 trillion in retirement and investment savings.
The bleak economic report cards bombarding the White House are finally reaching critical mass, and the freshman senator who rose to the presidency on his oratorical skills and little else is losing his support. His job approval score fell to 40 percent late last month, the lowest of his presidency, Gallup said.Even the liberal network nightly news shows, which largely ignored or underplayed the economic and unemployment debacles for most of Obama's 2 1/2 years in office, have begun stepping up their reporting on the economy's precipitous decline. New CBS News anchor Scott Pelley has been especially aggressive on this story, reporting Wednesday that 15 million workers were now without jobs, more than 20 million if you include workers forced to take only part-time jobs.
Elsewhere, this crisis is ignored, as if it didn't exist, despite rising poverty and homelessness rates and a stampede in food stamp applications.
Democratic leaders, whose minority and lower-income base has been hit hard by the jobless catastrophe, rarely utter a complaint.
Meanwhile, Obama has more excuses for the economy's decline than he has workable ideas to turn it around and get it growing again.
In recent weeks he's blamed the unemployment rate on labor-saving, productivity-increasing initiatives such as ATM machines and airport boarding-pass kiosks. What's next on his list? Salad bars that reduce the need for waiters? Time-saving credit card computers at the gas pump instead of service station attendants?
This week, with his presidency reeling from a volley of disastrous economic data, Obama called in his Cabinet to seek their advice on how to create jobs, delivering still more excuses for the sad state of the economy.
Much of the economy's woes, he said, were caused by turmoil in Europe over its own debt crisis, the earthquake in Japan, and the failure by Congress to pass a stopgap authorization extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, which has put thousands of FAA contractors out of work. He didn't mention that House Republicans approved an extension before leaving town for the August recess, and that Senate Democrats refused to pass it.
So he has taken to the road on a bus tour through the Midwest to talk about jobs, without a plan to create them, or without any idea what it takes to boost capital investment in new private-sector enterprises and small-business start-ups that are the wellspring of job creation.
The White House is lowering expectations that any new policy will make much of a difference during his presidency. "The fact is that there is no magic bullet that lowers our unemployment rate to where it would be ideally," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.
"We knew the road ahead was going to be difficult, that the climb was going to be steep. I have to admit, I didn't know how steep the climb was going to be," Obama told supporters in Chicago Wednesday night.
Translation: He didn't have a clue. He's in over his head.