Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Odd. This doesn't LOOK like an America in decline

According to this morning's jobs report, the last before election day of 2016, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent, below the point that economists traditionally consider full employment.  Last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added another 161,000 jobs, and updated numbers for the previous two months added an additional 44,000.

Overall, we've added almost 10 million jobs in the last four years, and almost 15 million in the last seven years. In fact, we've added jobs for every single month dating back to October of 2010, a total of 72 months of consecutive job growth, the longest such stretch in U.S. history, and there's no sign of the trend stopping. The tighter job market is also producing wage increases for workers, with average pay rising at a rate of 2.8 percent over the past year, according to the BLS.

Late last month, the Commerce Department also announced healthy third-quarter GDP growth of 2.9 percent, continuing to outpace growth in other western industrialized economies. In September, the Census Bureau reported a 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, the single largest annual increase since we began keeping the statistic in 1968. The poverty rate fell significantly as well, the largest annual drop since 1999.

Now think back to where we were four years ago, and the political debate that we heard at the time. In 2012, Mitt Romney called the Obama administration "the most anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-growth administration we've seen in a long, long time," and promised that if he were elected, he would implement policies to bring unemployment down to 6 percent by the end of his four-year term.

Under Obama we hit that goal in less than two years, and then just kept on going.

Four years ago, Romney and his fellow Republicans warned that inflation would soon balloon, driving up the cost of living and driving down the value of the dollar. Today, inflation remains a quite sedate 1.5 percent, and the dollar index is up 21 percent from November 2012.  Prognosticators such as Newt Gingrich were warning that Obama would soon push the price of gasoline to $10 a gallon.  The national average is now $2.23.

What else you want?

The percentage of Americans without health insurance had been rising steadily since 1975. Since 2010, it has  dropped from 16.3 percent to just 9 percent, the lowest rate in U.S. history. And while Obama's "socialist" policies -- including his insistence on raising tax rates for the wealthy and keeping a tighter rein on Wall Street gamblers -- were supposed to devastate the stock market, the Dow is up 37 percent from four years ago, up 171 percent since March of 2009.

But the truth is, these numbers just provide statistical confirmation of what you are probably witnessing with your own eyes. You used to see lines of desperate people at job fairs stretching out the door and around the block; now you see help-wanted signs everywhere you go. You used to see abandoned construction projects; now you see construction cranes working furiously. You used to cringe when you got your 401k statement in the mail; now you open it and smile.

Do we still face economic challenges? Of course we do. That will never not be the case.  Some of those longer-term challenges were discussed here just yesterday. As Americans, we're all in this together, and while the overall economy looks strong, large swaths of rural and small-town America are still struggling, as are many without a college degree. An economic transformation is underway that we haven't yet figured out how to handle, and that remains true.

But it also remains true that we have recovered well from the largest financial collapse in more than 80 years. We have six million more Americans working today than we did before the crash of 2008-2009, and those pitching voters a picture of America in decline have no idea what they're talking about.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.