Redefining “Improving”

How many times have we seen this story since the recession began and President Obama took office?  We get more bad economic news, and economists express surprise at the crappy news in view of the “improving” economy.  Is anyone but economists surprised that we are getting more bad economic news?  Does anyone other than academics actually believe that the economy is significantly improving?

Consider the linked story, which reports on news released today.  The unvarnished truth is that 471,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, up by 25,000 from the number of new claims filed the week before.  The index of leading economic indicators dropped.  The stock market plummeted, down more than 300 points.  The unemployment rate is 9.9 percent. The article reports that 4.63 million Americans are receiving regular unemployment benefits, and another 5.3 million Americans are receiving extended unemployment benefits paid by the federal government.  By my math, that is about 10 million unemployed people.  And Congress is now rushing to extend unemployment benefits — which already have been extended to 99 weeks — still further.

And yet the article refers to “an improving economy” that “has lured those who had given up looking for work back into the labor market.”  By what measure is our economy improving?  Are we just comparing the current situation to the point in the recession where the most jobs were being eliminated, and concluding that although thousands of new people are losing their jobs and looking for help, not as many are losing their jobs as were losing their jobs in March 2009?

This country has fallen far, indeed, if its citizens consider an economy with 10 million unemployed, a frozen credit market, an ongoing foreclosure crisis, and unprecedented governmental budget deficits — among many other problems — to be improving.  I’d bet most people don’t agree with such silly happy talk.

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