Have we gotten to the point in Washington where things are so nasty and partisan, so stuck in a blame-the-other-side mode, that any fact, any news, is immediately seen as a display of failure by the other party, no matter what the news or fact is?
We’ve seen this before – when Osama bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s approval rating was in the low-to-mid 60s, meaning that for a substantial portion of the country, there is literally nothing he can do right. And we see it again now, with economic numbers showing an astonishing (and unexpected) drop in the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent. That’s far lower than economists expected (and beating expectations, for some reason, seems to matter more to the experts than the final numbers themselves). The economy added 288,000 jobs last month, and the 0.4 percentage point drop in unemployment brings the rate to its lowest since 2008.
That should be good news, even if we indeed want the rate lower, even if wages are still stagnant and even if employment (which is a separate factor from unemployment) is not where we’d like it to be. But the welcome news was met with immediate disdain by Obama’s critics, who point to the numbers as an example of how the president is doing a terrible job with the economy. Said the conservative YG Network: "It’s unfair to the American people that liberal leaders in Washington continue to focus on their narrow agenda while the economy remains stuck in the mud. It's clear that President Obama's policies are not helping people bounce back."
And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., gave a bit of a nod to the six-year-low unemployment numbers, but still finds fault, saying in a statement, "Today's jobs report was very encouraging for those who found jobs and discouraging for those who left the labor force altogether. We can't just sit back and cross our fingers every month."
The reason unemployment went down, they say, is that people left the labor force. That is part of it, in fact. But it’s not as though this was the first month people have dropped out of the labor force – the unemployment rate is still dramatically lower than the double-digit levels it was at during the worst of the recession. And dropping out of the labor force isn’t necessarily a negative thing. People don’t only leave jobs because they got laid off or fired; nor do they stop looking for work only because they are discouraged.
If a two-earner family was suffering economically, and one of them got a job (or a better job), it’s possible the other person in the couple opted to stop looking for a job and stay home, either to care for family or to work for himself or herself. The Affordable Care Act is indeed part of the labor picture, but not only in the way its opponents describe. Lots of people stayed in jobs they hated, where they were underpaid or poorly treated, because they could not afford to let go of their health insurance, fearful a pre-existing condition would make it impossible for them to get insured otherwise. Those people can now leave the labor force (if they can afford it), or – what a wonderful American concept – start their own new businesses. That’s not a discouraging sign; that’s innovation and enterprise that fuel our economy and help us compete globally.
Unemployment numbers are always more nuanced than the numerals on either side of the decimal point. But the lowest point in a half dozen years? That’s’ a reason to celebrate, even if you don’t like the occupant of the Oval Office.