Editorial: Economic gains and losses should not be used as political pawns

2012-01-06T00:15:00Z 2013-04-30T14:00:10Z Editorial: Economic gains and losses should not be used as political pawnsBy the Editorial Board stltoday.com
January 06, 2012 12:15 am  • 

Economic statistics often tell different stories depending on the angle from which they are viewed. So it is with the latest unemployment figures for the St. Louis region.

Unemployment reached a three-year low in November, falling to 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When adjusted for seasonal changes, the numbers are slightly worse, 8.7 percent, but even that higher number is better than it's been in more than a year.

Good news, right? The trend is heading in the right direction. Hiring is up in the manufacturing sector. About 6,000 jobs were added in the St. Louis metropolitan area in the last year.

But then there's this caveat: The St. Louis workforce has declined by about 27,000 people in the last three years. That means that unemployment has been so bad that some simply stopped looking for work, and they no longer get counted in the overall pool.

Economists suggest that if all people who were looking for work in 2007 but aren't today were counted, the actual national unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent.

That's an indication of how much the Great Recession has changed the U.S. economy, perhaps forever.

Putting things into context often eludes politicians. Every day, their spin machines tout such successes as a direct result of their leadership. And failures are laid at the feet of their opponents.

December unemployment numbers will be released today. If the rate goes up slightly, that actually might be a good sign that some of those who had left the job market are reentering it, skewing the statistics.

Every politician in America is talking about jobs these days, but what action does it create? Not much.

For example, last month Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, pointed to Missouri's recent gain in manufacturing jobs while trying to deflect attention from some of his administration's recent failures.

Similarly, the Missouri Republican Party this week tried to hang a dour economic statistic around Mr. Nixon's neck. A Creighton University economist issued a report showing that growth in Missouri's gross domestic product ranked dead last in 2011 among nine Midwestern states and probably will remain in the cellar in 2012.

What the Missouri GOP failed to mention (or didn't realize) was that nationally, the state's GDP growth has been last or close to last for more than a decade, under governors and Legislatures from both major parties.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that between 1997 and 2010, Missouri's average GDP growth was 3.4 percent, lower than every state except Ohio and Michigan, two Midwestern states also stung by the decline of the manufacturing industry.

Revival of Missouri's economy — as it's currently constituted — will be closely tied to reviving industries that once made it strong: defense contractors and automobile manufacturing. Also, it must end the same housing market stagnation that is depressing much of the nation, said Ernie Goss, the Creighton University economist who made the dour GDP predictions.

That's not particularly hopeful. Many of the state's automotive jobs are gone for good, and the Pentagon budget is facing major cuts. Missouri needs a new economic model. Finger-pointing by politicians provides no solutions.

Voters should keep that in mind each time they hear a politician talk about jobs.

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