On the stump and in the recent debates, the president has been taking credit for things that are symptoms of a bad economy and touting them as major accomplishments.
Obama boasts that illegal immigration is the lowest it’s been in decades, but he leaves out that, in the words of the Associated Press, “Much of the drop in illegal immigrants is due to the persistently weak U.S. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust.” Indeed, Census data show that many Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, are heading home because they think the opportunities will be better south of the border. …
… And then, of course, there’s the unemployment rate. When the statistically odd drop in the unemployment rate for September was announced earlier this month, the president raced around the country celebrating the fact that we’d finally dropped below 8 percent unemployment. And you can hardly blame him.
But the reality is that the unemployment rate is only as “low” as it is because millions of Americans have given up looking for work. If you give up looking for work, you’re no longer counted as part of the labor market. In other words, if everyone just gave up hope of finding a job, the unemployment rate would be zero!
The actual state of the labor market is miserable. More than 12 million Americans are out of work, and that number becomes 23 million if you include people who’ve stopped looking or can’t find full-time work. The labor-participation rate is the lowest it’s been since the recession of 1981.
A few months ago, I wrote a column on how there were some silver linings to the dark cloud of a lousy economy, on the grounds that bad times often encourage good habits. Americans have been paying down their debts, building up their savings, and having their tattoos removed — all thanks in part to the bad economy and the financial crisis of 2008.
But there’s something distinctly creepy about looking at the symptoms of a lousy economy and preening about how you meant to do that.