On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the employment/unemployment report for December, while the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the trade data for the month of November. I usually comment on these two reports separately but, frankly, in these waning days of the Obama administration, these looks backward seem rather irrelevant. In each case, we knew what we were going to get with the economy locked into a “new normal” status quo by Obama’s trade policy. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a look at them since, together, they kind of “sum up” the economic results of Obama’s presidency.
It was yet another so-so month for the employment report. The job growth number was respectable, but wasn’t corroborated by the “employment level” portion of the household survey, which rose only 26,000. In fact, the employment level rose by only 43,000 in the last three months. Not only that, but the civilian labor force actually contracted by 72,000. As a result, unemployment rose slightly.
Meanwhile, the trade report was bleak. The deficit in manufactured products rose to $60.5 billion, just $0.5 billion off the record high deficit set five months earlier. Manufactured exports remained stuck at the same level as in March of 2011. That’s five and a half years of zero growth. Remember Obama’s pledge to double exports in five years?
These two reports aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect from a healthy economy. President Obama likes to highlight the number of jobs created and the drop in unemployment as evidence of a healthy labor market. But it’s more a case of him drinking his own Kool Aid. Those numbers are gimmicked by workers who mysteriously dropped out of the labor force and by a proliferation of low-paying, part-time jobs. He may fool himself and try to fool you with these numbers, but other statistics tell a different tale. Death rates don’t rise and life expectancies don’t fall in a good economy. Nor are wages stagnant. And “the country is headed in the wrong direction” isn’t the number one issue on the minds of voters in an election in a healthy economy.
Taken together, these two reports do a good job of summing up the economic results of the Obama presidency – economic stagnation at best or, more realistically, a decline fueled by an ever-worsening trade picture – the very thing he promised to fix during the 2008 campaign.