President Obama thinks that the improving economy will win him a second term, the New York Times reports today. Whatever he’s drinking, order me a double. His poll numbers look a little better because the Republicans have spent the past several months in a fratricidal bloodbath. Fortunately, the memory of the American electorate for such antics is short. Once we choose a candidate (and I am happy with Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich) and unite behind him, we will win, unless, of course, we find a way to sabotage ourselves.
People are hurting, and badly. The official unemployment rate may have fallen, slightly, but the real unemployment rate — the number of working-age Americans who aren’t working — rose from about 12% before the 2008 crisis, to about 23%, and hasn’t come down. That includes people who have retired early because they can’t find work, spouses who used to earn a second income but have gone back to homemaking because work isn’t available, self-employed people whose businesses have collapsed, young people who live in their parents’ basement because they can’t afford tuition and can’t find work. The chart below, courtesy of the Shadow Government Statistics website, shows (in the blue line labelled “SGS alternative”) the way unemployment feels to Americans: one in four Americans who could be working, isn’t. That’s roughly twice the pre-recession level.
Another way to gauge the pain factor is the so-called Civilian Employment-Population Ratio. Prior to the recession, nearly 65 percent of working-age Americans (not in the military or in prison) had jobs. Now it’s down to 58%. The difference is 16 million people who should be working, but aren’t — about the same as the entire working-age population of Australia. The slight increase in employment during the past few months barely tracks the natural increase in population.
Roughly one out of eight Americans who presumably want to work, and were working before 2007, can’t find work today. On top of this, the great American nest egg was crushed by the collapse of home prices. The real estate assets of American households have lost a quarter of their value since the crash and show little sign of recovery. More than a fifth of American mortgages are underwater.
But no-one has suffered more from Obama’s mishandling of the economy than African-Americans. The unemployment rate for black teenagers doubled during the recession and shows no sign of improvement:
It’s hard to imagine that African-Americans, college students, and other constituencies who hailed Obama as a savior in 2008 will provide the same enthusiasm, not to mention turnabout, in 2012.
Update: Gov. Mitch Daniels made a similar argument in his response to Obama’s State of the Union address: ” The percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades. One in five men of prime working age, and nearly half of all persons under 30, did not go to work today.”