Obama’s Economic Shell Game
By: Bethany Stotts
Accuracy in Media
Whether in his State of the Union or his recent campaign-like visits to the states, the President has been touting an economic recovery that his policies have supposedly fostered after he inherited a dire recession from George W. Bush. This narrative, repeated over and over through the years, is filled with half truths and exaggerations. Yet a complicit media is more than willing to look the other way from Americans suffering at the hands of a weak recovery with any numbers it can get its hands on.
To add insult to injury, the President’s proposed $320 billion in new tax increases makes it obvious that he’s “not serious about governing,” according to a Washington Post opinion piece by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. But, he argues, this political ploy will only work if the right is distracted by it.
Similarly, John Podhoretz writes for the New York Post that Obama gleefully “trolls,” or enrages his political opponents, to elicit ad hominem, spittle-filled disgust regardless of policy merits and the Democratic Party’s health. So when Americans hear the President proposing new taxes and claiming the country boasts a healthy, recovering economy, they may assume he’s tone deaf. However, he’s deliberately “trolling” for political effect.
The President is also fond of touting that the federal deficit has fallen from 10 percent of GDP to three percent of GDP, but such a claim couldn’t even fool Politifact, which rated the assertion as “half true.” “Obama is laying the blame for the high deficit-to-GDP ratio entirely on Bush, when the figure covers time in office for both presidents,” they say. “The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.”
From where I come from a “half truth” is really a lie. Add to the list of false assertions the evergreen claims by President Obama that a) he has made the best of a terrible recession, and b) that our economy is now going strong because the unemployment rate is now below six percent.
“The widely publicized unemployment rate, eagerly awaited each month by pundits and policy wonks, has become little more than a shell game in which officials keep the public guessing about the real state of the economy,” pointedly wrote Jay Schalin of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy back in 2012.
Reporting by The New York Times exposed that where once someone would have qualified as officially unemployed, they may now remain uncounted as “out of the labor force.” “In particular, there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who once would have qualified as officially unemployed and today are considered out of the labor force, neither working nor looking for work,” reported David Leonhardt last August.
Yet the Times, after the State of the Union last week, congratulated the President for his efforts to “cement an economic legacy that seemed improbable early in his first term, when the country was in near-economic collapse.” What then, is the President’s economic legacy of recovery to date?
Millions of people are not being counted in the most recent official unemployment rate of 5.6 percent. Schalin pointed his readers to a more accurate barometer—the labor participation rate. It currently sits at a 36-year low.
The falling labor participation rate, reports Jeffrey Scott Shapiro for The Washington Times, “translates to more than 7 million fewer workers in the workforce.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that a “U.S. economy that suddenly looks healthy” isn’t “luring back many of the millions who dropped out of the labor market during the down times.”
The outlook for America’s jobless and uncounted is dismal. “Over the past three months, an average of 6.8% of those outside the labor force either found a job or began looking for one,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “That means people are entering the labor force at the lowest pace in records kept since 1990, down from more than 8% in 2010.”
But the media instead carefully misinform the public to boost presidential credibility. The Washington Post, after the State of the Union address, called our President “cautious over the past two years not to gloat over news of fitful economic growth, mindful that the economy remained tenuous and public confidence uneasy.” Now, however, “with the jobless rate well below 6 percent, the stock market nearing record highs and his job-approval ratings rebounding, Obama on Tuesday night dropped his veneer of reserve and appeared to delight in having proved his critics wrong.”
What exactly is the proof?
“Jobs are up, but wages are down,” noted Politico’s Timothy Noah about December’s job numbers. “In five-and-a-half years of economic recovery, the median income should have increased. Instead, it is lower. … Stagnating wages have displaced unemployment as the nation’s chief economic concern, and wages are becoming a central political concern too.”
Ironically, the Post’s own fact-checkers, after taking apart the President’s speech, found that “it is too early to say that this positive response from small businesses means ‘wages are finally starting to rise again.’” In other words, our President lied—again.
“Politicians can lower the U-3 [unemployment] rate—and make things seem better than they are—by making it easier for people to leave the workforce,” noted Schalin.
At a national level, welfare dependency is at higher levels now than under George W. Bush, millions of Americans are signing up for Obamacare subsidies, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, and median income is now comparable to 1995 levels. “Today median income is on par with where it was in 1995, which is one of the reasons many Americans still don’t feel the economy has truly improved,” reported CNN Money in December in the last line of its article.
The first line touted more positive Obama-centric news: “The Obama recovery was looking a lot better on Friday after a particularly strong jobs report made 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999.” CNN must have thought it could put some positive spin on this official numbers game.
In the last year of Bush’s presidency, 17.1 percent of Americans received welfare assistance. That figure now stands at nearly one in four—23 percent—according to Shapiro.
“A 2013 Pew Research study of U.S. Census Bureau data found simply that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer during the Obama economic recovery,” reports Shapiro. The study stated that our recovery boosted the incomes of the upper 7 percent by over a quarter, while the “mean net worth” of households in the remaining 93 percent “dropped by 4%.”
Chuck Todd of NBC News’ deserves a veritable medal for media bias. He opened his co-authored article, “Telling the Recovery Story: Obama Hits the Road to Tout Economy,” by pointing to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s (D) criticism of the President that “one problem I think that the president has is that he doesn’t tell that story [the “explosive growth in corporate profits, in stock market returns, employment that’s come back strong”] very well or very regularly.”
“Well, Obama is now trying to tell that story a bit better,” comment Todd and his co-authors.
“One reason why the White House feels more confident in touting the economy is that the country has seen its longest stretch of good economic news during Obama’s presidency,” he and his co-authors wrote. “And that’s been reflected in a media that usually emphasizes bad news over good news.”
Todd has said in the past that he found his off-the-record conversations with President Obama “very nourishing.”
Simply put, a lot of Americans can’t—and won’t—swallow economic spin of such mammoth proportions, either from the media or from our President.