Attempting to follow the recent
unemployment debate on Capitol Hill is analogous to watching a
fast-paced game of air hockey — ill-fated spectators are left
bewildered and with a bad case of whiplash. On a weekly basis, both
parties circulate their slanted partisan interpretations of the
most recent job figures — usually crude simplifications of
one of the nation’s most intricate economic gauges. This
week, the ball seems to be back in Bush’s court. After taking
cover from a barrage of economic attacks from the John Kerry
campaign, recent Labor Department findings have allowed the
President to safely climb out of his political foxhole.
Now back on his pedestal, Bush is touting the Labor Department
numbers as testimony that his tax-cutting economic stimulus plan is
working. The report points to the creation of 308,000 new jobs in
March, the largest such increase since the spring of 2000.
Unquestionably, the figures suggest some positive trends, but to
mindlessly accept the Bush campaign’s contention that they
represent signs of a blooming economy would be imprudent.
Indeed, the recent torrent of Republican optimism has taken the
limelight off some of the report’s more discouraging
discoveries. For instance, despite the generation of thousands of
new jobs, the administration has conveniently overlooked the fact
that the unemployment rate did not decline — it increased.
Also, the White House neglected to mention that nearly 50,000 of
the “newly created” jobs in March can be attributed to
the resolution of a prolonged supermarket worker strike in Southern
California, an outcome that had nothing to do with macroeconomic
policy. The president has also turned his head away from the
manufacturing sector, which experienced no job growth in March. One
need not look far to spot some manifestations of this
sector’s poor performance: Manufacturing woes have been
hitting home in Michigan for some time.
In a desperate effort to resuscitate the ailing job situation,
the Michigan Legislature has passed a bill that would make the
bankrupt Federal-Mogul Corporation, one of Michigan’s largest
auto-parts suppliers, eligible for tax breaks. The tax credits are
conditional — Federal-Mogul must retain a certain amount of
employees at its plants, an unambiguous indication that Gov.
Jennifer Granholm’s administration is attempting to maintain
manufacturing employment. Because of the dismal manufacturing
performance in Michigan, the state government has been brought to
its knees, forced to plead with companies not to relocate their
plants and lay off workers. Lansing is effectively pumping
artificial oxygen into a suffocating business in an effort to keep
workers on the job.
Yet, while the state grovels, Bush continues his campaign tour,
hailing his 308,000 new jobs at every stop. The truth of the matter
is that no narrow politically fabricated statistic can forecast the
broader economic climate. While signs point toward a bright
economic future, the present reality in states such as Michigan
clearly indicates otherwise.