Should we celebrate South Carolina’s two recent major job announcements, a proposed $500 Continental tire-making plant in Sumter that is projected to bring 1,700 jobs, and a $1.2 billion investment by Bridgestone that could add another 850?
Or should we bemoan the reality that the state continues to have one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation?
Should we rejoice that the 2009 economic stimulus created about 3 million jobs or more and kept down the jobless rate by a couple of percentage points?
Or should we emphasize the fact that it didn’t keep the rate from climbing into double digits and remaining about 9 percent for much of this year?
Should we appreciate September’s national jobs report, which showed that 137,000 private sector jobs were created last month, a figure much better than a forecast of economists had anticipated? That’s a massive, more than 900,000-job turnaround – to the good – from the first month of Barack Obama’s presidency. It also included an upwardly revised number which showed we created jobs in August; initial reporting said we hadn’t.
Or should we focus more on a 9.1 percent unemployment rate that illustrates just how high the climb remains for us to get out of the economic hole created by the worst recession since the 1930s?
In a sane world, we’d do all of the above, ignoring neither the struggles that remain nor the progress made.
Recoveries don’t take hold without fits and starts.
But we don’t live in a sane world right now; we live in one in which most people filter just about everything through a political lens.
That’s why in one breath we claim government can’t create jobs but in the next blame government when job growth stalls.
That’s why we argue that government should shrink, but when it does so by cutting jobs – as it has been doing for several months and did again in September – we complain that the resulting higher jobless rate is too high. Had local, state and federal government payrolls simply remained the same over the past 2 years, the unemployment rate would be closer to 8.1 percent, not the current 9.1 percent.
That’s why many of us ignore the influence of China’s currency manipulation, which is hurting our ability to export and create manufacturing jobs, and why we don’t care that the leaders in a handful of European countries have as much, or more, to do with the likelihood our economy will fall back into recession as anyone in Washington or Columbia.
Our short-term economic fate is linked to Greece and subject to the political acumen of the German chancellor.
And we barely notice that fluctuations in the oil markets have more impact on the economy than a proposed millionaire tax or a reduction in regulations ever can.
Though the economy is a complicated beast that is thrust forward, then dragged back by global and unseen forces, we have created a perverse environment in which many quietly root for a weak economy because it increases the prospects for their preferred political candidate and party.
In 2008, that was true of Democrats. The poor economy was one of the primary reasons Barack Obama was elected.
During the 2012 election cycle, it is true of Republicans who believe a struggling economy is their best way to retake the White House. And it is why Republican candidates and officeholders downplayed or took credit for the strong job growth that took place early this year, almost 200,000 private-sector jobs a month, but have since placed all of the blame on the president since that rate slowed.
It’s true in South Carolina as well. Gov. Nikki Haley’s office is spitting out non-stop press releases with every new announcement of jobs entering the state, including favorable quotes from businessmen and public officials about the governor’s role in luring them here. But Democrats who oppose the governor aren’t expressing any giddiness about those new jobs.
What’s worse is that the public is too often taken in by these political games and is too quick to lose confidence – the one quality our struggling economy needs the most.