fresh voices from the front lines of change







Let history be clear on one point when it comes to Bush's mismanagement of the economy: Since January 2001, the month George W. Bush took office, the number of unemployed people has increased more than 84 percent.

That statistic is based on seasonally-adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released today. While most of today's economic focus is on the direct impact of the economic downturn on employment, it is equally important to keep the long view in mind, for in the long view is the evidence that conservative economic approaches to creating jobs have utterly failed and their proponents are thoroughly discredited.

When President Bush took office, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent and the ranks of the unemployed stood at just over 6 million. As it turns out, the nation would never again see unemployment that low during the entire Bush term. Today, the unemployment rate is 7.2 percent and there are 11.1 million people unemployed.


Lawrence Mishel

EPI President Lawrence Mishel puts in context today's unemployment report, and explains why we're facing what he calls "a rapid unraveling of the economy" that could adversely affect as much as one-third of the country if left unchecked.

Also noteworthy is the employment-to-population ratio. When Bush took office, that ratio was 64.4 percent. It would never see that level again. It went down through his presidency to today's 61 percent. That's through all of the business and high-income tax cuts that Bush and conservatives said would create jobs.

Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz today noted that "the end of 2008 saw the fastest rate of job loss since the first quarter 1975.” And EPI president Lawrence Mishel says in our podcast (left) that the first-year rise in unemployment in this recession, which officially began in December 2007, exceeds all but one of the recessions of the last 38 years and more than unemployment rose in total in the 1990s and early 2000s recessions. Unless there is a dramatic policy intervention, Mishel warns, we will see unemployment exceeding 10 percent by the end of 2009 or early 2010. For African Americans, the unemployment rate could top 18 percent. Already, Mishel points out, underemployment—those who are working part-time when they want to work full-time—is running about 13.5 percent.

Since Bush took office, there has been what columnist Marie Cocco describes as "an extravagant orgy of tax-cutting": $1.35 trillion over 10 years in 2001, $350 billion in 2003, $146 billion in 2004 and $142 billion in 2006. And yet, despite the utter failure of supply-side economics to yield the level of job growth that would have blunted this recession, the right won't let the tax-cut mantra go. Today, Lawrence Kudlow complains that President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus plan is "not reducing marginal tax rates on large and small businesses or individuals." Michael Reagan grouses that this is a time when it is "essential for out-of-control government spending to be halted and drastically cut back" and chides Obama, along with right-wing members of Congress, for rejecting "the tried-and-true approaches to economic stability."

Tried and true? More like tried and calamitous. The results are as plain as the state unemployment offices that can't handle the flow of new claims. Yet, the conservative counterargument continues to be reflexive opposition to government and uncritical worship of corporate tax cuts. What's clear is that the people who comprise the 84 percent increase in the number of unemployed under Bush's watch need a new direction.

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