Some in the White House and on Wall Street assume the anemic recovery will turn stronger in the second half of the year, emerging full strength in 2012. They blame the anemia on disruptions in Japanese supply chains, bad weather, high oil prices, European debt crises, and whatever else they can come up with. These factors have contributed, but they're not the big story.The miscalculations by Obama, the Republicans, and the Democrats strike me as the same kind of "miscalculations" that allowed Europe to stumble into the disaster known as WWI.
When the Great Recession wiped out $7.8 trillion of home values, it crushed the nest eggs and eliminated the collateral of America's middle class. As a result, consumer spending has been decimated. Households have been forced to reduce their debt to 115% of disposable personal income from 130% in 2007, and there's more to come. Household debt averaged 75% of personal income between 1975 and 2000.
We're in a vicious cycle in which job and wage losses further reduce Americans' willingness to spend, which further slows the economy. Job growth has effectively stopped. The fraction of the population now working (58.2%) is near a 25-year low—lower than it was when recession officially ended in June 2009.
Wage growth has stopped as well. Average real hourly earnings for all employees declined by 1.1% between June 2009, when the recovery began, and May 2011. For the first time since World War II, there has been a decline in aggregate wages and salaries over seven quarters of post-recession recovery.
This is not Bill Clinton's economy. So many jobs have been lost since Mr. Obama was elected that, even if job growth were to match the extraordinary pace of the late 1990s—averaging 300,000 to 350,000 per month—the unemployment rate wouldn't fall below 6% until 2016. That pace of job growth is unlikely, to say the least. If Republicans manage to cut federal spending significantly between now and Election Day, while state outlays continue to shrink, the certain result is continued high unemployment and anemic growth.
So Mr. Obama's challenge in 2012 has nothing to do with Mr. Clinton's in 1996. Most Americans care far more about jobs and wages than they do about budget deficits and debt ceilings. Even if Mr. Obama is seen to win the contest over raising the debt limit and succeeds in painting Republicans as radicals, he risks losing the upcoming election unless he directly addresses the horrendous employment problem.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Obama Using the Clinton 1996 Game Plan
Robert Reich has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal on how Obama thinks he can win re-election by following the game plan of Bill Clinton in 1996 when faced with the Republican surge in 1994. Clinton moved to the right, removed entitlements, and stole the Republican thunder. But he won big in 1996 because the economy was soaring. Obama is going to have to face election with a terrible economy. He is unlikely to win because unemployment will be very close to its current 9%. Obama plans to win because he thinks he will have a "recovering" economy: