President Obama's attempt to spin the latest discouraging unemployment numbers as "a step in the right direction" is like telling passengers aboard the Titanic to ignore the sinking vessel and listen to the live music.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of the June unemployment figures offers little comfort, nor does it produce confidence that the economy will improve before the election.
"The U.S. unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent in June," the Journal reports, "but a broader measure rose to 14.9 percent as the ranks of the underemployed grew. ... The reason the rate didn't decline was that while the number of employed increased, so did the labor force by a larger 189,000 people." The broader unemployment rate includes temporary and part-time workers who would prefer a full-time job, as well as people who want to work but have given up looking for jobs. The president's policies, which appear to have stifled economic growth, continue to contribute to the dismal jobs outcome.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should cause headaches for the Obama re-election team and an opportunity for Mitt Romney to offer a better path. Hispanic and Latino unemployment remained essentially unchanged at 11.0 percent. African-American unemployment rose by 184,000 to 14.4 percent, making one wonder why so many black voters continue to support a president who is doing them little good. The number of unemployed women has increased by 780,000 since President Obama took office. The unemployment rate among white men and women remained at 7.4 percent, but whites don't seem to figure much into Obama's re-election strategy.
June marked the 41st consecutive month in which the unemployment rate has been above 8 percent, the longest streak at such a high level since the Great Depression. President Obama promised that if Congress passed his stimulus plan, unemployment would be around 5.6 percent by now. In 1992, when Bill Clinton became president, the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent. In October 2008, under George Bush, the unemployment rate was 6.5 percent.
Here's more from an analysis by James Pethokoukis of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank: "The average duration of unemployment ticked up to 39.9 weeks. ... Job growth during the three-year Obama recovery has averaged just 75,000 a month for a total of 2.7 million." He contrasts this with the first three years of the Reagan recovery when "job growth averaged 273,000 a month for a total of 9.8 million."
Pethokoukis adds, "If you adjust for the larger U.S. population today, the Reagan recovery averaged 360,000 jobs a month for a three-year total of 13 million jobs."
President Obama has said we "can't afford to go back to the failed policies of the past," implying they didn't work. Those past numbers look a lot better than the ones he's posting. We're waist-deep in a financial "Big Muddy," to paraphrase Pete Seeger, "and the big fool says to push on."
If Obamacare is not repealed and replaced by a Republican Congress and a President Romney, its sharp tax and spending increases will lead, among other things, to employers hiring even fewer people and laying off the workers they have. There is no healthy economic future if we continue along this line.
But more than a change of administrations is needed. We also must change the way many of us think about the proper role of government, which functions best when it's limited. When people are not limited by government, they do better for themselves and the nation. Why then do so many turn to government when it consistently fails to perform better than the private sector in most categories?
Mitt Romney should be hammering on this theme and not let the Obama campaign pound him as an out of touch, jet-skiing, rich guy. This election is, or ought to be, about whether the country can stand another four years of incompetent, overspending, overtaxing government, or whether it should return to the safe harbor of living within our means and doing more for ourselves.
Spinning numbers won't cure an ailing economy anymore than wishful thinking will improve the condition of a dying man. This administration has put America on a path to socialism. It's for Romney to make the case that the administration's "medicine" is actually killing us.
(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.)