An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
August 10, 2005
Well, economically, at least, the times are really good. Economic growth is so robust that the Fed raised interest rates this week for the 10th time in 14 months to keep it under control. The economy is so strong that even high gas prices haven't fazed it. Productivity is surging, and unemployment is at a relatively low 5 percent.
But President Bush, his aides complain, isn't getting any credit. Worse, over half of the public disapproves of his handling of the economy.
The president convened his top economic advisers for a summit at his ranch, ostensibly to plot strategy but in reality to try to garner Bush some credit for what the director of his National Economic Council called "really spectacular" growth. They recited the usual litany of his accomplishments and initiatives, from tax cuts to Social Security reform.
Perhaps the campaign went a little overboard when the president described the highway bill - which was $30 billion more than he said was acceptable and packed with $24 billion in pork-barrel projects - as a jobs bill.
Bush's problem with his handling of the economy is one of public perception and psychology. People simply don't feel good about it.
One reason, as Treasury Secretary John Snow recently acknowledged, is that the benefits of economic growth have been disproportionately distributed, with those at the high end of the economic spectrum benefiting most and those at the lower end little or not at all.
Another is the lingering trauma from the job losses attendant to the 2001 recession. The White House endlessly repeats that 4 million jobs have been created since May 2003, but that only emphasizes the depth of the hole we were in. The Congressional Budget Office says that 1.6 million jobs were lost in the nine months of the 2001 recession and another 1 million in the next 18 months of the "jobless recovery." The CBO described the growth of the labor force subsequently as "exceptionally weak" and found that even early this year labor-force participation - adults working or looking for work - was below 66 percent.
There isn't much Bush could have done about that then and there's little he can do now but take a page from Ronald Reagan. He faced an even more devastating recession early in his presidency, but basked later in the credit for a good economy and staying the course. If the economy stays robust, the credit will come.
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