Unemployment is President Barack Obama’s Achilles’ heel, as he and members of his administration heap steadily more debt, more regulation and more spending on the as-yet-productive sectors of the American free enterprise system. Even so, there are limits.
Government can force-feed laws and regulations down the throat of business, use tax dollars to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and even take over entire industries with impunity, but it can’t force private sector employers to hire more workers. Obama might just as well promise to squeeze greenbacks out of turnips.
Since Feb. 17 — the day Obama signed his $787 billion economic stimulus bill — 2.7 million Americans have been laid off, with the largest job losses in construction, manufacturing, services and transportation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only in government and the government-dominated health care sector are net new jobs being added. Many economists, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, predict the “official” 9.8 percent unemployment rate will hit 10 percent by the end of the year.
To put this in historical perspective: The U.S. hasn’t seen unemployment like this since 1941, when it hit 9.9 percent. And if you include those who have been unemployed for more than 15 weeks — that is, “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for a job and those involuntarily working part time — total unemployment hit 17 percent this month (compared to 10.6 percent last September).
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought it [stimulus] would work this well,” the perennially clueless Vice President Joe Biden told the nation’s governors Sept. 24. “As bad as things are, they would be far worse without the recovery plan or these other efforts.”
He might as well have reported that the blind would now see and the lame walk if only Congress had made the stimulus plan bigger. Biden may be the only person in America who’s thrilled that the Obama jobless rate now exceeds even the 9.7 percent reported during the 1982 hangover from the “malaise” days of President Jimmy Carter, but he cannot plausibly argue that the administration’s unprecedented spending spree kept things from getting worse.
According to Obama himself, this was not supposed to happen. A week before he signed the stimulus package, the president predicted that it would “save or create” 4 million jobs and keep unemployment below 8 percent. But as millions of Americans who have been laid off since can attest, the stimulus did not save their jobs or create new ones. All it did was put taxpayers even deeper into debt.
If 17 percent total unemployment is the vice president’s dream come true, we can only guess what his nightmares are like.