Staying the ineffective course
June brought the perfect encapsulation of the Obama economy: More Americans signed up for disability benefits than got jobs. According to government statistics, 80,000 Americans found work last month, while 85,000 dropped out of the labor force altogether to collect Social Security Disability payments.
It is possible that an unusual number of Americans have become disabled during President Barack Obama’s tenure – but if so, what does that say about the virtues of Obamacare? In any case, though, Obama promised that unemployment would not top 8 percent if we passed the stimulus law – and though he predicted that the unemployment rate would be at 5.6 percent today, the private economy itself is quite disabled under this leadership.
There are very few jobs on offer. People are accordingly going where the money is. From the beginning of the recovery in June 2009, more Americans have joined the ranks of the disabled (3.1 million) than have found jobs (2.6 million). Record numbers have also filed for unemployment insurance, welfare benefits and food stamps, which 1 in 7 Americans now receive.
The federal government has so many welfare programs that a top official of the Government Accountability Office couldn’t even provide a fixed number to a House oversight committee, nor would Patricia Dalton “hazard a guess” as to what percentage of these programs is accomplishing the purposes for which they were created. What is not in doubt is the increase in funding Obama has requested for welfare: 42 percent over 2008 levels.
Since the administration believes unemployment insurance to be the best way to expand the economy, it isn’t surprising to find that the food stamp program, or SNAP as it’s now called, is also advertising for more “customers.” The SNAP website encourages local offices to be creative about finding more beneficiaries. “Throw a Great Party. Host social events where people mix and mingle. Make it fun by having activities, games, food, and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP.” The Daily Caller reports that SNAP is also running radio ads (cost to you: about $3 million) to encourage greater participation in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, California, Texas and New York.
SNAP, with a touching faith in the Keynesian multiplier, explains, “Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in additional community spending. If the national participation rate rose five percentage points … $2.5 billion total in new economic activity would be generated nationwide.” Right.
The president is fond of saying, regarding the Republican Party’s economic philosophy, “We tried that, and it didn’t work.” Obama never acknowledges that his economic philosophy – enthusiastically enacted by a Democrat-dominated Congress in 2009 – not only has failed but also makes no sense. By what logic does adding record numbers of people to the welfare rolls aid the economy? Fewer and fewer Americans are earning the money from which these expanded benefits are to be paid. Though the president predicted a strong recovery by 2010, he now claims that the poor economy is still somehow George Bush’s fault, all the while still maintaining that things are “moving in the right direction,” which, presumably, must not be Bush’s doing.
There are only a couple of nongovernmental sectors that the president routinely praises and endorses – and you can’t really call them private, because both have received generous taxpayer subsidies: the high-speed rail and “green jobs.” In California, the feds have partnered with bankrupt Sacramento to begin building a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In a survey of potential customers, 69 percent said they would “never” or “hardly ever” use such a train. No matter, they will soon break ground for the first leg of the system that will traverse the 130 miles from Madera to Bakersfield. From, as a wit noted, “where nobody lives to where nobody wants to go.”
The 5 million green jobs Obama promised, and toward which he shoveled $25 billion in stimulus funds, have obviously not materialized. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been working overtime to reclassify existing jobs as “green.” As Rep. Darrell Issa discovered, “There are 33 times as many so-called green jobs in the septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry as there are in solar energy and utility areas. More than 160,000 of these green jobs are related to school bus drivers.” A plumber who installs a low-flow toilet becomes a “green” plumber. In some cases, government claims of new green jobs were based only on unaudited claims found in industry press releases.
Mysteriously, these boondoggles, subsidies, transfer payments and trains to nowhere haven’t boosted the economy. It must be the dead hand of George W. Bush.
Mona Charen is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.