EDITORIAL: Data doesn't support Obama's claim economy is better off
President Barack Obama has always seen himself as an agent of change, a la Ronald Reagan. His goal was to do for progressive politics what Reagan had done for conservatism.
Thus it was no surprise that he parroted a Reagan trope in recently asking the question of whether Americans are better off today than when he took office — and then answering his own question by concluding that “the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office.”
For Reagan, it was a campaign strategy drawn as a weapon against Jimmy Carter in 1980. Are you better off, he asked voters, than you were four years ago?
Such comparisons aren’t unique to Reagan and Obama, of course, but Reagan put his own stamp on it — quite successfully as it turns out.
“By every economic measure,” Obama told college students the other day, “we are better off than when I took office.”
So not only has this president adopted the Reagan line (even crediting Reagan). He’s turned it into yet another example of repeated, robotic rhetoric in the endless campaign speeches made by a man “who is not running for anything except the exit,” in the words of Caroline Baum, a former Bloomberg News columnist.
Baum correctly notes that Obama has set a low bar for economic measurements, as did Reagan in a sense. When the former took office in 2009, the longest recession since World War II was at its nadir. Reagan, inaugurated in 1981, took the reins at a time when Carter’s legacy had produced a terrible economy. Both Reagan and Obama inherited bad economies. How could people not be better off?
The problem is that Obama’s stewardship set in motion a sluggish recovery. Unemployment has fallen, but the labor participation rate has dropped to a low not seen since 1978. Yes, that was during the Carter administration. Obama’s Department of Labor says nearly 100,000 jobless workers have given up. This pushed the [current] unemployment rate down to its lowest level since the last summer of the George W. Bush administration.
Obama doesn’t mention this when he’s in his “Are you better off?” mode. To bolster a weak argument, the president repeatedly compares today’s numbers with those of January 2009. Therefore, writes Baum, “Almost anything appears better compared to the worst recession since the Great Depression.” What’s more, Baum adds, “he has a habit of taking credit for things he had nothing to do with: the energy renaissance, for example.”
Neither Obama nor the federal government is in any way responsible for the energy boom. It was created and sustained by the private sector and has occurred despite the administration’s hostility to fossil fuels.
So The Great Divider has found a way to brag about a meaningless comparison (the 2009 economy versus today), ignore a troubling statistic (the labor participation rate) and take credit for something he basically opposes.
The man’s got skills. We’ll hand him that.
But who’s really better off today? Not the jobless. Not those who are paying more for health insurance — which is most of us — or who’ve been forced to migrate from full-time to part-time status because of Obamacare. Not the middle class, for whom Obama casts himself as a champion. Baum notes that real median income was 4 percent lower in 2013 than when Obama took office. And the poverty rate is higher.
Just what set of statistics supports Obama’s “better off” boasting?
Agents of change are supposed to change things for the better. Reagan did. Obama has not only mismanaged the economy, he’s set it on a course that will plague this nation for years to come.