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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Editorial: On jobs front, does it matter who's president?

  • The June jobs report is in and it's predictably lackluster, with the 80,000 jobs added nationally keeping pace with population growth and no more. Some 13 million Americans - about 8.2 percent of the total work force - remain unemployed.

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  • The June jobs report is in and it's predictably lackluster, with the 80,000 jobs added nationally keeping pace with population growth and no more. Some 13 million Americans - about 8.2 percent of the total work force - remain unemployed.
    Running in place - or being "stuck just north of neutral," in the words of Vice President Joe Biden's former chief economic adviser - is not a great theme on which to campaign for re-election, but President Barack Obama will likely have to live with it, as neither economists nor those who go by gut feeling are predicting improvement between now and November.
    "This economy has no forward momentum and little help from monetary or fiscal policy," one economist told the New York Times. Europe isn't helping matters, Congressional gridlock isn't either. The fundamental structural weaknesses of the economy - the debt held by government and individuals, the huge number of "underwater" mortgages, formidable future demographic and entitlement challenges - have never been adequately addressed. The struggles of the private sector are being felt in the public sector, which is laying off workers. (Ponying up more for government services can be too much to ask when you're jobless and pensionless yourself.)
    Meanwhile, 1.8 million new college graduates face the bleakest job and compensation prospects in memory, with an unemployment rate of nearly 17 percent for the 18-to-29 demographic the worst since World War II, according to the Wall Street Journal. Half of grads since 2006 are not working full-time.
    As far as many employers are concerned, there's just too much uncertainty out there between the potential impact of "Obamacare," the fluctuation in fuel prices, the outcome of the upcoming elections and what fiscal policies might prevail as a result, the anticipated expiration of various tax breaks at year's end - from payroll tax forgiveness to the Bush tax cuts. Federal unemployment benefits are running out for many, so don't expect those folks to go on any shopping sprees. It's interesting to note that among the few areas of growth was temporary help services, which suggests a reluctance to hire even if business orders have begun to pick up. While there are some bright spots here and there, overall corporate profits declined in the year's first quarter, which hadn't happened since the wheels fell off the economy in 2008.
    Everything, it seems, is on hold. If this is what "recovery" looks like, well, forgive those of us who can't quite bring ourselves to say, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"
    A Friday headline in the Times read, "Obama promotes a long view on jobs," and of course he does. Wouldn't you if you were in his shoes?
    He continues to accentuate the positive - 4.4 million additional jobs since the recession's onset, 28 straight months of private sector job growth, upticks in manufacturing - but it just hasn't been enough to deserve the description of anything other than "sluggish." The argument he makes that it would have been worse were it not for government intervention may have the benefit of being true, but it's not an enthusiastic applause line.
    Page 2 of 2 - If Obama asks the threshold question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" the answer could be a hesitant "maybe," but unless you're a tiny subset of the population - the fabulously wealthy - not by much. In many ways it still feels like a recession, even if it has been declared officially over as measured by various economic indicators. The president is lucky to have a handy scapegoat in George W. Bush, whom most Americans still hold responsible for the downturn - about 68 percent of them, according to polling by Gallup last month.
    Meanwhile, yet another Friday headline in the Times read, "Romney and Republicans criticize Obama over weak jobs report," and of course they do. Wouldn't you if you were in their shoes?
    "There's a lot of misery in America today," said a Romney who was no doubt pleased to have something else to talk about besides the Supreme Court's decision on "Romneycare" ... er, "Obamacare." "It doesn't have to be this way. America can do better. And this kick in the gut has to end." Ultimately, "the president's policies have clearly not been successful in reigniting this economy, in putting people back to work and in opening factories across the country."
    That last statement may have the benefit of being true, too. But the big question mark is whether Romney's policies would achieve any of those goals, especially to the benefit of a middle class that from all outward appearances has not seen its lot improved at the hands of U.S. industry, which largely supports the Republican's candidacy. Romney also made his comments from his lakeside vacation compound in New Hampshire. He's been campaigning hard and everybody needs a break - Obama has taken his share of those, too - but as image problems go, the vast majority of Americans don't live like that.
    The real downer here is the realization that fundamental economic shifts may continue to punish the middle class and its American dream no matter who occupies the Oval Office. It's looking like a toss-up in November.
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.

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