Double Digits

The U.S. unemployment rate has risen again, to 10.2 percent, according to figures released today by the Labor Department. The economy lost another 190,000 jobs in October, which was more than expected. Even more discouraging, the total unemployment rate, including people who have given up looking for work (and who therefore are not counted in the misleading “official” statistics) has reached 17.5 percent. The Reuters chart attached to this posting tells the sad tale in graphic form.

I heard an economist discuss the statistics on NPR today, and she said the results were encouraging because the rate of job loss has slowed. Only an economist could find the loss of 190,000 jobs to be an encouraging sign! To many people, I think, the continuing loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs is the exact opposite — a sign that the economy is very sick and is not getting better, that employers are retrenching, that more people will be out on the pavement competing for the few job openings that may occur, and that there currently is no end in sight. In view of the millions of jobs that have been lost since the recession began, how many more jobs will be be eliminated before we top out on the unemployment rate? If you are going off a cliff, does it really matter that you are going 25 m.p.h. instead of 30 m.p.h.?

In my view, the unemployment statistics tie neatly into the election results on Tuesday. Many of the pundits who have talked about the election results are missing the point. I doubt that voters in Virginia and New Jersey believed they were sending some kind of message to President Obama with their ballots. I’ve voted for governor in Ohio many times, and I don’t recall ever thinking that my choice would make a difference to the occupant of the White House. Instead, I think the results in those two states reflect significant discontent with the fact that the party in power has not been able to return people to work. Because the Democrats were the party in power in both Virginia and New Jersey, voters turned to the Republicans. This means that the Democrats are in trouble in 2010 unless things turn around.

I continue to believe one other fact is true — compared to the concern about the economy and unemployment, “health care reform” seems like a total frolic and detour. I think that many people, including the 190,000 unfortunates who lost their jobs last month, will be wondering why Congress is spending so much of its time talking about health care when the economy and unemployment are more immediate and stark problems.  If Congress’ attention is seen as being improperly focused on health care during this time when jobless people are so desperate, I think angry voters will remember those misplaced priorities the next time they vote.

A final point: Everyone understands that businesses hire people around the holidays. If the holidays come and go without any positive blip in employment statistics, and the holiday shopping season is a bust, I think we will see angry voters unlike any ever seen before.