Public May Soon Blame Obama for Bad Economy
By DeWAYNE WICKHAM
Now it's getting personal.
My wife was one of the 467,000 people around the country who lost their jobs last month. Two months earlier, my sister was let go from a banking job she'd worked for nearly two decades. My youngest brother's wife has been out of work since the beginning of the year.
While the national unemployment rate stood at 9.5 percent in June, it's a whopping 30 percent among adults in my immediate family.
But as bad as things are for my family, they seem to be worse for many other Americans.
In the 20 months since this recession started, the number of people who have been jobless for more than 27 weeks has tripled - to 4.4 million. The frustration of the long-term unemployed can be measured in the number of people the Labor Department says are now only "marginally attached" to the labor force. There were 2.2 million of them last month.
Back in February, 71 percent of people questioned in an Associated Press-GfK poll said a friend or relative had lost their job in the previous six months because of the economy. That number is probably even higher now.
Still, most Americans are unwilling to blame President Barack Obama for this sorry state of affairs.
The president's overall approval rating was 60 percent in the Gallup Poll's daily tracking for June 22-28. Just 33 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of the job he is doing. But the good will Obama enjoys may not last long if unemployment continues to rise.
Eighty-seven percent of Americans said unemployment is their biggest economic concern, Gallup reported last month. That's a warning sign the president shouldn't miss.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration made the case for a $787 million stimulus package of tax cuts and government spending, predicting it would help keep unemployment from climbing above 8 percent in 2009. But six months into the year, the jobless rate is 9.5 percent, and there's a good chance it will top 10 percent by fall.
If the stimulus spending has had any effect, it has been to slow the rise in unemployment, not reverse it.
Of course, many of the nation's economic problems were festering long before Obama moved into the Oval Office. But they must be solved on his watch. Unfair as that may sound, it's the nature of politics. The good will Obama enjoys among voters almost certainly will take a big hit if unemployment is still rising when the end-of-year holiday season is approaching.
There's been a lot of belt-tightening among my relatives this summer. My family has put off our annual vacation. My sister - the family cake maker - isn't showing up at cookouts and other family functions with free cakes any more. And my brother with the unemployed wife has become his own barber.
Those are relatively painless sacrifices. Soon, as the long-term effects of unemployment hit us, more drastic cost-saving measures will be necessary. The deeper these cuts become for us and other families, the more personal they'll feel.
And the more personal they feel, the more political the unemployment issue will become.
Already, the 2008 presidential election seems like ancient history. The widespread euphoria it produced is giving way to the growing desperation felt by this nation's jobless - and a creeping fear the Obama administration doesn't know how to keep their ranks from growing.