October 20, 2020

Economic Memo: Employment Data May Be the Key to the President’s Job

Seventeen months before the next election, it is increasingly clear that President Obama must defy that trend to keep his job.

Roughly 9 percent of Americans who want to go to work cannot find an employer. Companies are firing fewer people, but hiring remains anemic. And the vast majority of economic forecasters, including the president’s own advisers, predict only modest progress by November 2012.

The latest job numbers, due Friday, are expected to provide new cause for concern. Other indicators suggest the pace of growth is flagging. Weak manufacturing data, a gloomy reading on jobs in advance of Friday’s report and a drop in auto sales led the markets to their worst close since August.

But the grim reality of widespread unemployment is drawing little response from Washington. The Federal Reserve says it is all but tapped out. There is even less reason to expect Congressional action. Both Democrats and Republicans see clear steps to create jobs, but they are trying to walk in opposite directions and are making little progress.

Republicans have set the terms of debate by pressing for large cuts in federal spending, which they say will encourage private investment. Democrats have found themselves battling to minimize and postpone such cuts, which they fear will cause new job losses.

House Republicans told the president that they would not support new spending to spur growth during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

“The discussion really focused on the philosophical difference on whether Washington should continue to pump money into the economy or should we provide an incentive for entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow,” said Eric Cantor, the majority leader. “The president talked about a need for us to continue to quote-unquote invest from Washington’s standpoint, and for a lot of us that’s code for more Washington spending, something that we can’t afford right now.”

The White House, its possibilities constrained by the gridlock, has offered no new grand plans. After agreeing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and reducing the payroll tax last December, the administration has focused on smaller ideas, like streamlining corporate taxation and increasing American exports to Asia and Latin America.

“It’s a very tough predicament,” said Jared Bernstein, who until April was economic policy adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “Is there any political appetite for something that would resemble another large Keynesian stimulus? Obviously no. You can say that’s what we should do and you’d probably be right, but that’s pretty academic.”

More than 13.7 million Americans were unable to find work in April; most had been seeking jobs for months. Millions more have stopped trying. Their inability to earn money is a personal catastrophe; studies show that the chance of finding new work slips away with time. It is also a strain on their families, charities and public support programs.

The Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank, has the means and the mandate to reduce unemployment by pumping money into the economy.

As financial markets nearly collapsed in 2008, the Fed unleashed a series of unprecedented programs, first to arrest the crisis and then to promote recovery, investing more than $2 trillion. The final installment, a $600 billion bond-buying program, ends in June.

Now, however, the leaders of the central bank say they are reluctant to do more. The Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said in April that more money might not increase growth, but there was a growing risk that it would accelerate inflation.

Congress charged the Fed in 1978 with minimizing unemployment and inflation. Those goals, however, are often in conflict, and the Fed has made clear that inflation is its priority. Fed officials argue in part that maintaining slow, steady inflation forms a basis for enduring economic expansion.

Eric S. Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said in a recent interview that the Fed had reached the limits of responsible policy.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=012e21cf280e5897041c58b195707321

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