The unemployment rate is still at 9 percent. According to Gallup, 35 percent of people say the economy is their top concern, and 22 percent say jobs. Just 12 percent cite the federal deficit and debt. Republicans have taken the top concern of roughly one-eighth of the public and made it their existential cause. On top of that, they have taken a subset of the debt issue, the long-term fiscal sustainability of Medicare, and made it their calling card.
I've made this point often over the past few months. To their credit, the whole country is talking about debts and deficits, which are important. But as Paul Krugman of the NY Times has written about consistently, it's not addressing at all what ills our economy today.
This is a similar situation going on in Tallahassee: Florida Republican lawmakers applauded themselves (and still are) about how they were able to reduce a $3.8 billion deficit by not raising taxes. They said that on the last day of session, and they're still saying that (Mike Haridopolos said yesterday, "This year Florida faced the largest budget shortfall in state history. Despite this challenge we passed a balanced budget without raising taxes or fees. ")
However, they passed their budget without tax increases by failing to address the job situation. That's not me saying that - that's Republican state Senator Mike Fasano, who told CL earlier this month that
"There was no major legislation that I remember that came to the Senate floor or out of the House floor that’s going to stimulate this economy as the people requested."
Earlier this week St. Petersburg House Republican Jeff Brandes begged to differ, telling CL that "I think my constituents want jobs and they want accountability in Tallahassee, and I think that’s what I provided." He said that after we quoted the new Quinnipiac poll that showed that 56 percent of Floridians surveyed said they disapproved the Legislature's actions, vs. only 27 percent who support them.
It's simple: unemployment is still too large in the Tampa Bay area, Florida and the country. But because it's a story that we've been talking about for several years now, it seems that some folks - like our leaders- are weary of talking about it.
That's not the case locally, where both the Hillsborough County Commission and now the Tampa City Council are discussing, or in the case of the county, have implemented a plan to provide tax breaks to local companies who are hiring new workers. It's by no means a panacea,but it's an attempt to help "create jobs" as the mantra goes.
Folks, the bottom line is, the economy isn't really improving that much. And I'm beginning to think this economic malaise, which after the '08 crash realistically wasn't expected to improve until this year, is going to continue pass 2012.
The New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning economics columnist David Leonhardt writes on Friday that in addition to the Labor department reporting that jobless claims are down, he writes that a new study shows economic growth to be less this year than was earlier predicted:
An economy that is growing this slowly will not add jobs quickly. For the next couple of months, employment growth could slow from about 230,000 recently to something like 150,000 jobs a month, only slightly faster than normal population growth. That is certainly not fast enough to make a big dent in the still huge number of unemployed people.
Are any policy makers paying attention?
When the economy weakened in the first quarter, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, and Obama administration officials said the slowdown was just a blip and growth would soon pick up. Today, many Wall Street economists are saying much the same thing: any day now, things will improve.
Maybe they will. But the history of financial crises shows that they produce weak, uneven recoveries, with unemployment remaining high for years. That history also shows that aggressive government action — the kind of action Washington took in 2008 and 2009, but not for most of 2010 — can make the situation much better than it otherwise would be.
The latest signs of weakness suggest that policy makers remain too sanguine. It is easy to see how the rest of 2011 could end up disappointing, much as 2010 did.
The point of this column is to emphasize that it is jobs, and not the deficit, that is the issue of our times. Our local leaders get that. The leaders in Tallahassee and Washington? Not so much.