[lit-ideas] The war is distracting from the good news!

  • From: "Andreas Ramos" <andreas@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 24 May 2004 22:32:41 -0700

Delusions of Triumph

May 25, 2004

Republicans, we hear, are frustrated by polls showing that
the public has a poor opinion of George Bush's economic
leadership. In their view, the good news about Mr. Bush's
economic triumphs is being drowned out by the bad news from

A recent article in The New York Times, citing concerns of
"Republican elected officials, pollsters and strategists,"
put it this way: "The creation of nearly 900,000 new jobs
in the last four months - a development that might
otherwise have redefined the race in Mr. Bush's favor - has
been largely crowded out of the electorate's psyche by
images from Iraq."

Funny, isn't it? In 2002, Republican strategists used the
impending Iraq war to distract the public from the
miserable economic news. Now they're complaining that Iraq
is taking voters' focus off the economy.

But is the economic news really that good? No. While the
recent economic performance is better than in the
administration's first three years, it isn't at all
exceptional by historical standards. And after those three
terrible years, the economy has a lot of ground to make up.

Let's start with the "nearly 900,000 new jobs" created in
the last four months. Is that exceptional? Well, during the
first four months of 2000, the last presidential election
year, the economy created 1.1 million new jobs. An e-mail
message to Bush's supporters from Ken Mehlman, his campaign
manager, takes a longer view, boasting of 1.1 million jobs
created since last August (when job growth finally turned
positive). But in April 2000, payroll employment was 2.3
million higher than in August 1999.

And that was after seven years of sustained employment
growth; rapid job growth is hard to achieve when the
economy is already close to full employment. To find a year
comparable to 2004, we need to look back to 1994, when the
economy was still recovering from the first Bush recession.
In the first four months of that year, the economy added
almost 1.3 million jobs.

The experience of 1994 also gives us some indication of how
likely job growth is to "redefine" an election. Between
December 1993 and November 1994 the economy gained 3.6
million jobs, a number beyond the Bush administration's
fondest dreams. Yet voters, convinced that Bill Clinton was
leading the country astray, gave his party a severe defeat
in that year's midterm elections. So it's interesting that
a new CBS News poll finds that 65 percent of Americans
believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction -
a level not seen since 1994.

If you want to convince yourself that I'm not playing games
with dates, go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site
at stats.bls.gov. Click on "U.S. economy at a glance," then
on the green dinosaur next to "Change in payroll
employment" for a 10-year chart of monthly job gains and
losses. The chart reveals that for 37 months, from January
2001 to February 2004, the Bush administration presided
over dismal job numbers: employment for each month fell, or
grew far more slowly than the norm during the Clinton
years. March and April were much better, but they still
weren't exceptional by 1990's standards.

And a mere return to Clinton-era job growth isn't enough:
after all those years of poor job performance, we need
extra-rapid growth to make up for lost time.

Here's one way to look at it. The job forecast in the 2002
Economic Report of the President assumed that by 2004 the
economy would have fully recovered from the 2001 recession.
That recovery, according to the official projection, would
lead to average payroll employment of 138 million this year
- 7 million more than the actual number. So we have a gap
of 7 million jobs to make up.

And employment is chasing a moving target: it must rise by
about 140,000 a month just to keep up with a growing
population. In April, the economy added 288,000 jobs. If
you do the math, you discover that President Bush needs
about four years of job growth at last month's rate to
reach what his own economists consider full employment.

The bottom line, then, is that Mr. Bush's supporters have
no right to complain about the public's failure to
appreciate his economic leadership. Three years of lousy
performance, followed by two months of good but not great
job growth, is not a record to be proud of.


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  • » [lit-ideas] The war is distracting from the good news!