The Edmond Sun


May 7, 2012

Lackluster unemployment numbers still show progress

EDMOND — Terrible? Really? I remember terrible and this isn’t it. On Friday the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added an estimated 115,000 jobs in the month of April. The number, which was well below consensus estimates, was disappointing. Many economists had been hoping that job growth, which averaged 230,000 new jobs monthly during the first quarter, would continue to strengthen as we head into spring. It appears though, that job growth is slowing.

While many economists expressed disappointment at the latest jobs numbers, former Massachusetts governor, and certain Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the report “terrible.” I understand that in the midst of a political campaign that political hyperbole often takes over, but “terrible?” Really? I cannot help but think of the line from one of the all-time great movies (The Princess Bride), “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In the past three months of the Bush administration, the private sector had shed 2.3 million jobs. That was terrible. In the most recent three months of the Obama administration, the private sector has added 550,000. That is progress. During the eight years of the Bush Administration the private sector actually lost nearly 650,000 jobs. That was terrible. During the Obama Administration the private sector has actually added jobs. This is progress.

In fact, the Obama economy has had 26 consecutive months of private-sector job growth and in that time has added 4.2 million new jobs including more than 2 million in the past year alone. Furthermore, in just the first four months of this year, private-sector job growth already has surpassed five of the eight years from the Bush presidency, and is on pace to log the highest growth since 1999. This is progress.

After all, when it comes to changes in employment positive numbers are better than negative ones.

Yes, it could have been better. We could have seen faster employment growth and declining unemployment. The blame though lies not with the president’s economic policies, but with Congress’ obstinacy. A close look at the data reveals an important fact — Congress failed to do enough to support employment growth during this recovery. While the private-sector has been expanding and creating jobs for 26 months, the public sector has been shrinking — shedding more than 500,000 jobs.

How does this compare to the first 26 months of the last three economic recoveries? In the first 26 months of the recovery from the 1981 recession (which occurred during the Reagan administration) government employment grew by 425,000 (2.7 percent) jobs. During the first 26 months of recovery from the 1991 recession, government employment grew by 562,000 jobs (3.0 percent). Even during the Bush Administration, government employment grew by 257,000 jobs (1.2 percent) during the first 26 months of the recovery from the 2001 recession.

Economics tells us this is what governments should do. During recessions, governments should respond by increasing spending and boosting government employment (which includes local, state and federal workers). This provides additional spending in the economy boosting overall economic activity. And previously, under both Republican and Democratic presidents that is exactly what happened. This time though, Congressional Republicans have stonewalled the president’s efforts to provide additional economic stimulus. If government employment in this recovery had grown at the same pace as the in the Reagan and Clinton recoveries there would be an additional 1.1 million Americans employed right now. As a result of Congress’ stonewalling, we have a slower recovery than we should have.

In politics, politicians too often are willing to sacrifice truth and common sense in order to appeal to voters. However, Romney’s statements blaming his opponent for the failure of his own party’s policies, has taken petty politics to a new heights of hypocrisy.

MICKEY HEPNER is the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.

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