Great news: the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 last week, the US Labor Department says. That’s the lowest level since October 2007. In other words, the American job market is at its healthiest level since before the Great Recession, at least by this one measure. (See above chart, courtesy of Calculated Risk.)
Yet at the same time, pollster Gallup tells us, “Despite President Barack Obama’s renewed focus on the nation’s economy this summer, he scores worse with Americans on the economy than he did in June. His approval rating on the issue, now 35%, is down seven percentage points, and his ratings on taxes and the federal budget deficit are each down five points.” Moreover, Obama’s overall job approval rating dipped three points between the June and August surveys, from 47% to 44%.
So why the apparent disconnect? Well, the jobless claims measure is just one way of gauging the economy. Other metrics show stagnation rather than acceleration. For instance, here is the employment-population ratio, which simply measures what share of the non-incarcerated, not-military portion of the population is working at any job:
Is that all because America is getting older and more and more prefers leisure to work? Surely, America didn’t suddenly get a lot older since the Great Recession, like in that Star Trek original series episode when, as Wikipedia puts it, “strange radiation exposes the command crew of the Enterprise to the effects of rapid aging.”
Or maybe it’s also that too many jobs are part-time gigs. This chart show the share of the US workforce that is currently part-time remains highly elevated:
Or maybe it’s also that take-home pay is barely growing:
True, none of these trends is new. But maybe it’s the cumulative impact of a glacially slow recovery that has yet to return America to prosperity. While some Washington elites want America to accept the New Normal – don’t whine, by happy — clearly the nation remains deeply dissatisfied. Pointing out that the eurozone is doing much worse is of little comfort. Maybe things have reached a tipping point where we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Instead of talking so much about wealth redistribution, maybe the president — and Congress, for that matter — should focus more on wealth creation.