Thursday, June 2, 2011
As President Obama roams the globe, dining with the British royalty and meeting with European heads of state, cashing in on his political capital as the president who gave the order to the Navy SEAL team to kill Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama is faced with a grim reality.
No American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent. Seventeen months before the official start of the 2012 election, it is clear President Obama must defy that trend to keep his job.
Roughly 9 percent of Americans who want to go to work cannot find an employer. The number is higher in many regions and cities. Companies are firing fewer people, but hiring remains anemic and the vast majority of economic forecasters, including the president’s own advisers, predict only modest progress by November 2012.
The latest job numbers, due Friday, are expected to provide new cause for concern. Other indicators suggest the pace of growth is flagging. Weak manufacturing data, a gloomy reading on jobs in advance of Friday’s report and a drop in auto sales led the markets to their worst close since August, and those declines carried over into Asia Thursday.
More than 13.7 million Americans were unable to find work in April; most had been seeking jobs for months. Millions more have stopped trying. Their inability to earn money is a personal catastrophe; studies show that the chance of finding new work slips away with time. It is also a strain on their families, charities and public support programs.
Ronald Reagan won reelection despite facing 7.2 percent unemployment in November 1984, because the unemployment was actually falling and voters decided he was fixing the problem. Barack Obama hopes his story will follow that of his Republican hero.
However, in politics, past is usually prologue and unless employment greatly improves over the next seventeen months, I think the American people need to prepare for a period in history of a series of single-term presidents.