By J SWYGART
Okay, while it ultimately won’t crack the Top Gazillion list of stupid things said by a sitting president, I think we can all agree that President Obama’s pronouncement last week that the “private sector is doing fine” probably were words best left unsaid.
Or, as Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the wake of Obama’s gaffe: “How bad is all this for the president? Here’s how bad: Last week Mitt Romney accused President Obama of being ‘out of touch with the American people.’ When a guy building a California vacation mansion with a car elevator for his wife’s two Cadillacs calls you ‘out of touch’ — and no one laughs — you know you are in trouble.”
Yesterday on this newspaper’s opinion page, syndicated columnist Byron York, as his fellow conservative pundits had done in recent days, took the president to task over his recent comments at a Baltimore fundraiser that the private sector created nearly 4.3 million new jobs in the last 27 months.
While he did not dispute the president’s job creation claim, York wrote: “The problem, of course, is that Barack Obama has been president for 40 months. So why do he and his supporters speak as if he has only been in the White House for the last 27 — that is, since March 2010? It’s as if the first third of Obama’s presidency just doesn’t count.”
The ultimate point of York’s column, I think, was a weak attempt to connect March 2010 as the date when Obama’s national health care program — which was packaged as a job creation bill — became law, and to deride “Obamacare” in its entirety as poor public policy.
More to the point, it was an attempt to convince voters that the economy has gone to hell in a handbasket under Obama’s watch.
So, mostly out of curiosity, I decided to sift through the three years of Indiana unemployment data I have on file, just to see how Obama’s tenure in office stacks up in the jobless arena.
At the top of this page is a crude and admittedly mostly illegible bar chart, hastily thrown together by yours truly, that shows the unemployment stats in Adams County for the past 37 months — starting in May of 2009. At the time, the county’s jobless rate hovered above 15 percent. Last month it was 7.3 percent, after hitting a four-year low of 7.0 percent a month earlier in April.
Each month this newspaper publishes the latest unemployment statistics as provided by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. And the monthly summary usually includes a comparative look at jobless rates for the previous 12 months or so.
Those numbers at times can seem confusing at worst, or inconclusive at best, but when strung together in a chart like the one above, the decline in unemployment rate the county has enjoyed over the last three years comes into clearer focus.
Before we go any farther, a word to the naysayers I hear mumbling in the distance. Yes, it is true that monthly jobless figures can be deceiving. Yes, there are each month a number of unemployed workers whose benefits expire, or who have simply abandoned any attempts to find jobs.
The figures are admittedly skewed. But at the same time, isn’t it logical to assume that the “skewedness” of jobless numbers is in itself at least somewhat constant?
No matter how you slice it, 7 percent unemployment in Adams County beats the bejeepers out of 15 percent — or so it would seem to me. And virtually all of the local improvement over the past three years rests squarely within the private sector.
Has the economy recovery finally begun? Perhaps. Has that recovery progressed to the point everyone hoped it would be by now? Of course not. It that Obama’s fault? Well ...
While I hesitate to play the “Bush” card (okay, I’ve hesitated now) it’s impossible to ignore the financial mess this president inherited — two ongoing wars and Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans chief among them. Those hurdles were, if not insurmountable, certainly a formidable obstacle to economic recovery. That some strides indeed have been made seems irrefutable.
The president’s detractors will continue to berate Obamacare, along with federal bailouts of the auto and financial industries, in a desperate attempt to regain the Oval Office. And it may work. Politics is funny that way.
In the meantime, Obama will continue to take a beating for saying the public sector is “fine.” And that’s okay, too; all statements are fair game on the political battlefield. In a week, his comments will be largely forgotten, replaced by a new “gotcha” moment foolishly uttered by one candidate or the other.
For the record, my money’s on Romney. It only took him a matter of hours to replace Obama’s sound-bite slip-up with one of his own.
Romney said of Obama, “He wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
Or, in other words, apparently it’s time to fire more people.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.