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Fun With Numbers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
How to make a silk purse: First you hand Barack Obama a sow's ear. He'll explain it may look pretty bad, but it's really pretty good. Like the latest jobs report, which only an incumbent president could profess to love. Here's how this president presents it: "Today we learned that after losing around 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, business once again added jobs for the 30th month in a row, a total of 4.6 million jobs."

Maybe we were all supposed to cheer and applaud at that point, as if we were at the Democrats' national convention and believed every word of it. And -- above all -- not look too closely at the numbers being thrown around.

The actual number of new jobs added to this still sputtering economy last month was only 96,000 compared to the 125,000 that ever-hopeful analysts had predicted, and well below the still minimal 139,000 a month the nation's economy had been adding so far this year. At this rate, the great recovery sounds more like a lingering recession.

But to hear Barack Obama tell it, Happy Days Are Here Again! It just doesn't feel like it for some reason. Mainly because they aren't.

But never mind that. If we'll all just be patient and keep swallowing Dr. Obama's patent medicine, all will soon be well. To borrow a line from Herbert Hoover, prosperity is just around the corner.

All that's needed is a few more bailouts, Solyndra deals, another dose of crony capitalism in general, and more stimulus packages that somehow never stimulate ... and no matter what numbers result, this president can cite them selectively enough to show that the economy is making great strides. Even if it's still stumbling. Or even falling backwards. He's very good at talking about jobs. Much better than he is at creating them.

The president does have a point. If only one. There's no disputing that the country was entering the trough of a great recession -- The Great Recession, some call it -- when he entered office. But after almost four years of Dr. Obama's ministrations, there's also no disputing that the country hasn't quite come out of it. The patient's fever may have broken, but he remains weak, wobbly, a shell of his former self.

The president and his ever-shifting team of economic advisers have got statistics galore to prove how successful their treatments have been. Only success itself eludes them.

How many more Recovery Summers do you think it'll take before the economy recovers? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably better than Team Obama's. For if this president really were succeeding, he wouldn't be shaking up his team so often, replacing one set of well-forgotten economic advisers with another, equally forgettable lot.

When a president running for re-election cites statistics, it's important that he pick just the right ones and, just as important, leave out any embarrassing others. Even better, change the subject. Which you can bet the president will try next.

Back in 2009, this same president and his hotshot team of economic advisers assured us they would hold the unemployment rate below 8 percent -- even have it down to 5.4 percent by now.

Don't you love the to-the-decimal-point precision of such forecasts/wild guesses? They give a bald and unconvincing narrative the sound of credibility. Alas, only the sound, not the substance. Much like so many of this president's eloquent speeches.

If his administration's assurances had panned out, as the president's opponent this election year was quick to note, there would be 9 million more Americans with jobs now.

Instead, the country has more than 12 million unemployed, and at least as many who are underemployed, which is the term for those who'd like a full-time job, but who can find only part-time work in this anemic economy. If you include the underemployed and those who've given up looking for work, the real unemployment rate now stands at 14.7 percent.

This latest jobs report also revealed that hourly pay fell, and that manufacturers cut the most jobs in two years. Tuesday's report from the Labor Department was bad news, too. Job openings in July, the latest monthly totals available, were down from June, and June's had to be revised downward.

American businesses are holding back. Whatever the reason -- the news stories offer the usual foggy litany of them to explain what they can't explain -- these numbers say businessmen are growing discouraged. But how expect a president who stays busy bashing American business to encourage it? His talk of how much he wants to do for small business tends to sound hollow when he proposes to tax it even more.

The only reason the country's jobless rate has fallen from 8.3 to 8.1 percent is that 368,000 Americans gave up the job search altogether. Which brought the percentage of the country's working-age population in the labor force down to 63.5 percent, the lowest since 1981, when the Carter Stagflation still cast a pall on the land, and the Reagan Years were only dawning.

The numbers behind the numbers are even sadder. Eight million Americans are still out of work but aren't considered officially unemployed because they haven't bothered to look for work during the past month. (People get tired of lining up job interviews when there aren't jobs.)

Of those Americans counted as unemployed, more than 40 percent have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Their official classification: long-term unemployed. They number more than 5 million.

The country's population has grown by 31 million since April 2000, but there are now fewer of us working. As for those of us who do have job, annual pay increases now average 1.6 percent -- the lowest level in 30 years. If you factor in inflation, wages are actually shrinking.

Here's another number to contemplate: More than 45 million people in this country are on food stamps -- that's 15 percent of the population. Over the past four years, the food-stamp program has been adding more than 400,000 of us a month. Four hundred thousand a month. Some numbers speak loud, and what that one says isn't good. Neither is what it portends about the future of the American Dream.

Meanwhile, still another credit rating agency -- Moody's -- has issued a warning about the balance sheet of that increasingly sketchy operation known as the government of the United States of America. It seems the Federal Reserve, much like this administration, is running out of inflationary nostrums. Though that doesn't stop Ben Bernanke and Co. from adopting new ones that promise to be just as ineffectual.

No doubt about it, the financial crisis-cum-recession of 2008-09 was bad, but this recovery that isn't much of one could prove worse. Because it threatens to become permanent, the status quo, the new normal. Which is what happens with a managed economy. It soon becomes an over-managed economy, squeezing out private investment, initiative and incentives. Because it's assumed Big Brother knows best. Unfortunately, he knows only what's best for Big Brother and his growing army of public employees and their unions. This latest jobs report is just one more symptom of what can happen as the public sector keeps crowding out the private one. It ain't pretty.

In sum, this isn't exactly a sterling record of job creation the president is touting on the campaign trail. But who you gonna believe -- your lyin' eyes or Barack Obama's happytalk? Relax. This latest unemployment report only sounds like bad news. Everything is really coming up roses. They only look like the same rank weeds.

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