America is at a crossroads. Today's jobs report shows that two years into recovery the U.S. economy is still woefully underperforming, adding only 120,000 new jobs in March, about half the rate of job growth of the previous three months which were, themselves, somewhat disappointing for this stage of recovery.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the jobs report is the extent to which the labor market was "little changed," an impression the report returns to repeatedly. For example, the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent, still two full percentage points higher than the peak during the 2001 recession, was "little changed." Other examples, with italics added:
- The number of unemployed persons (12.7 million) was "little changed in March."
- "Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (7.4 percent), teenagers (25.0 percent), whites (7.3 percent), blacks (14.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.3 percent) showed little or no change."
- "The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was essentially unchanged at 5.3 million in March."
- "The civilian labor force participation rate (63.8 percent) and the employment-population ratio (58.5 percent) were little changed in March."
- "In March, 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, essentially unchanged from a year earlier."
- "Among the marginally attached, there were 865,000 discouraged workers in March, about the same as a year earlier."
Thankfully, the economy continues to create jobs, yet growth can only be described at this stage as spotty, anemic, and disappointing. America's economy should, instead, be booming. That confirms once again that President Obama's economic policies not only have failed to spur recovery, but have almost certainly held recovery back by increasing regulatory costs, increasing uncertainty, ballooning the budget deficit, and constantly threatening higher taxes consistent with a political ideology antithetical to economic prosperity.
So, what next? Where America and the American economy goes from here remains highly uncertain as Washington grapples with fundamental questions about which policies to pursue today and into the future. Fortunately, the upcoming national elections will focus all Americans' attention on these difficult questions.
Of course, President Barack Obama will try to paint a happy face on this disappointing report, arguing that all manner of headwinds are thwarting his plans for prosperity but that, nevertheless, he will vacuously assert the country is headed in the right direction. But take a step back and remember where the President promised we would be. Under his trillion-dollar stimulus, he said, unemployment would never rise above 8 percent. He was wrong. And not just in his economic policy.
Energy policy? Under his Administration, gas prices have doubled. And under his watch, countless jobs are being left on the table thanks to his decision to say "no" to the Keystone XL pipeline while pursuing "green" energy programs that even Vice President Joe Biden's former adviser says do not create long term jobs, despite costing billions of taxpayer dollars.
Budget policy? President Obama talks a good game about budget deficits and debt, but now the contrast in competing visions for America's fiscal future has been laid bare. On the one hand is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) "Path to Prosperity Budget" which passed the House last week and includes proposals similar to those in Heritage's Saving the American Dream plan. It's a strong, positive effort that advances the serious and necessary conversation about securing America's future, and it does so with market-based reforms to health entitlements, a tax plan that will help the economy grow, and spending cuts now and into the future.
On the other hand is President Obama's FY 2013 budget, which was unanimously rejected by the House. His plan delivers massive tax increases and a fourth consecutive annual deficit exceeding $1 trillion with spending that rises from $3.8 trillion to $5.8 trillion in 2022. That's no way to plan for the future, especially as America faces a near $16 trillion debt and a budget crisis that will cripple Social Security and Medicare, while foisting an unbearable tax burden on future generations.
Smarting from the failure of his plan to win not even a vote in the House, President Obama delivered a speech on Tuesday in which he painted the Ryan plan as a nefarious scheme of social Darwinism which would rob college students of financial aid, preschoolers of an education, seniors of their health care, and the middle class of a decent life.
Knowing that his best weapon is to try to deflect attention from his own policy and leadership shortcomings through class warfare, the President turned to divisive rhetoric and scare tactics. And next in his repertoire was a series of warmed-over complaints about President George W. Bush's policies, the failings of supply-side economics, and predictions that under Ryan's plan, the poor will suffer while the rich prosper. Top that off with a call for taxes on those making over $250,000 as a form of economic "fairness," and you have the blueprint for Obama's vision of the future. Enter an endless era of big government, stage left.
Today's job growth once again raises serious questions why America's economy is not doing, much, much better. Meager growth is not good enough, and the country's fiscal realities are nothing future generations can bank on, especially with an unbalanced budget, a mounting tax burden, debt that's too high, energy that costs too much, and a military that is stretched too thin.
And so, America has a choice. Will it choose to accept its current path of mediocrity and ignore the fiscal crisis that it faces, or will it choose to confront its challenges head on and enact policies that will lead to a sounder, stronger future? Now is the time to decide.