Speaking Of Unemployment And The Economy . . .

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 4, 2009

Of course, the numbers are grim. But just as grim is the economic message we need to take away from the latest information on the state of the economy, a message that puts the lie to the claim that the $787 billion stimulus package passed earlier this year is having any real, positive effect on the economy thus far:

. . . most of the current rebound in the economy stems from auto companies and other manufacturers restocking inventories, which have plummeted as factories and retailers have sought to bring goods more in line with reduced sales.

Few economists think that can provide the basis for a sustainable recovery. Gault forecasts the economy will grow at a 3.7 percent clip in the current July-September quarter, but expects that to fall to 2.4 percent by the fourth quarter and 2 percent in the first quarter next year.

Analysts expect businesses will be reluctant to hire until they are convinced the economy is on a firm path to recovery. Many private economists, and the Federal Reserve, expect the unemployment rate to top 10 percent by the end of this year.

If laid-off workers who have settled for part-time work or have given up looking for new jobs are included, the so-called underemployment rate reached 16.8 percent, the highest on records dating from 1994. That rate rose because the number of workers settling for part-time hours, either because their employer cut their work week or because that’s all they could find, increased by about 300,000.

But earnings rose and the number of hours worked stayed above a recent record-low. Average hourly wages increased to $18.65 from $18.59, the department reported. Average weekly earnings increased to $617.32.

The number of weekly hours worked remained at 33.1, above the low of 33 reached in June. That figure is important because economists expect companies will add more hours for current workers before they hire new ones.

On Wall Street, stocks moved in a narrow range in midday trading. The Dow Jones industrial average added about 15 points, and broader indexes also edged up.

The recession has eliminated a net total of 6.9 million jobs since it began in December 2007. Job cuts last month remained widespread across many sectors.

The construction industry lost 65,000 jobs, which caused some economists to note that the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package hasn’t yet stemmed layoffs in that industry.

“It doesn’t look like a whole lot of those ‘shovel ready’ projects have been started,” Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, wrote in a note to clients.

Someone let the Vice President know about this. He needs to be clued in to reality, given his recent statements that the stimulus package has been helpful. In any such briefing, it may be best to address Joe Biden as “Mr. President”; from the looks of things, he appears to think that he really is in charge of matters.

UPDATE: The Vice President/President/whatever-we-are-supposed-to-call-him–these–days is fact-checked:

Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed success beyond expectations for the $787 billion economic stimulus, but his glowing assessment overlooks many of the program’s problems, including delays in releasing money, questionable spending priorities and project picks that are under investigation.

[. . .]

Biden, Obama’s chief stimulus cheerleader, proudly pointed to more than 2,200 highway projects Thursday funded by the program, but didn’t mention the growing frustration among contractors that infrastructure money is only trickling out and thus far hasn’t delivered the needed boost in jobs.

[. . .]

Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said last month he will examine the Federal Aviation Administration’s process for selecting programs for the $1.1 billion in grant money. His announcement came after his office discovered that the Obama administration used stimulus money to pay for 50 airport projects that didn’t meet the grant criteria and approved projects at four airports with a history of mismanaging federal grants.

And Biden praised the more than 2,400 military construction projects paid for with stimulus money, but ignored the millions of dollars in savings the Defense Department lost because it hasn’t competitively bid many of the jobs.

[. . .]

In making the case that the recovery program was not just economically sound but also good policy, Biden noted that transportation money was replacing unsafe bridges.

“It is worthwhile to take some of those 5,000 bridges out there that are ready to collapse, follow what happened in the upper Midwest, and fix them,” he said.

But most states are spending stimulus money on bridges that are already in good shape, another AP analysis found. Of the 2,476 bridges scheduled to receive stimulus money so far, nearly half have passed inspections with high marks, according to federal data. Those 1,123 sound bridges received such high inspection ratings that they normally would not qualify for federal bridge money, yet they will share in more than $1.2 billion in stimulus money, the AP analysis published in July found.

Kudos for the fact-checking, but if we don’t have more such stories repeatedly pointing out the incontrovertible point that the Vice President/President/whatever-we-are-supposed-to-call-him–these–days is making stuff up in a manner that would leave Bill Clinton himself slack-jawed and appalled, then the Vice President/President/whatever-we-are-supposed-to-call-him–these–days and the rest of the members of the Obama Administration will continue to put out spin on the economy that has an unfortunate and pronounced tendency to not coincide with the truth.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In his inimitable way, Nick Gillespie joins in the calling of the shenanigans.

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