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Morning Jay: If Our 'Food Stamp Recovery' Persists, Obama Will Lose Big

6:00 AM, May 6, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Unsurprisingly, we also see weakness in terms of real per capita income, as the next graph demonstrates. I did something similar with this one – taking real income per capita (minus government transfer payments) at the point that NBER says a recovery began, setting that at 100 percent, and tracking how the current recovery stacks up against previous ones.

Taking the last two graphs together, the ultimate point is validated: this is the worst recovery in generations. The 2001 recovery saw similar weakness in terms of real income, but jobs bounced back better that time. What's more, the 2001 recession was substantially milder, so we should have expected a greater snap-back this time around.

On a cause-and-effect level, it’s hard to assign much blame to this president, or any president for that matter. As we can see from the last two graphs, the recoveries from the 1990, 2001, and 2007 recessions were all slow and unimpressive, suggesting that there are greater forces at play than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Indeed, the transition to a post-industrial economy might be the single biggest factor. The once-great anchors of the American economy – steel, automotive, rubber, and other industries – used to be able to lay workers off temporarily during a slowdown, then bring them back when demand picked up, as can be seen in this graph. But the industrial sector of the economy is today just a fraction of what it used to be, meaning that such a brisk rebound is no longer possible.

Obama does deserve some of the cause-and-effect blame for this recovery, mostly due to the terribly inefficient stimulus. I was recently in Washington and was able to snap this photograph, which should go down in the annals of history as a testament to Keynesianism run amok.

It goes without saying that there were better ways to generate a recovery than this, so Obama and congressional Democrats deserve some cause-and-effect blame for the pace of the rebound. (Side note: Two years after Congress appropriated the money for this project, it is still not completed.)

On a political level, the blame for the recovery goes entirely to President Obama. Indeed, looking at the polls on his handling of the economy, you can see that he is already taking the heat.

And so, we can lay down the following marker: if the economic recovery does not begin to show substantial improvement, the likes of which we have not really seen in the last two years, and if the GOP nominates a reasonably acceptable alternative, this president is going to lose in 2012, and the final result will not be close. Nobody gets reelected with employment way down, real income way down, and 14 percent of his fellow citizens on food stamps. Nobody.

And the president needs something more than a “recovery” in the sense that we’ve seen to date. When you start controlling for inflation, population growth, and government intervention, the recovery we’ve seen has only been, at best, a treading of water for average people. This president needs to see a significant improvement in real, per capita, and private metrics of personal economic vitality. Put simply, he needs something more than this "food stamp recovery" to win next year.

People who are giving such a heavy advantage to the president next year must be making at least one of two assumptions: (a) the economy is suddenly going to do better than it has done in the last two years; (b) the GOP nominates a dud.

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