President Obama’s Jobless Recovery….or, America’s Ever-Shrinking Band of Happier (and a lot Wealthier) People

Last month, 58.6{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of working-age Americans were actually working. It must be good times for working folks, right? Guess again: the percentage of working-age Americans actually working has held stagnant since October of ‘09 when it dropped out of the 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} range just a couple of months after President Obama was sworn in the first time.

Between January and March of ‘09, the employment ratio dropped from the very low 60s to just above 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} as millions joined the ranks of the unemployed. Then it dropped another point just a few months later. In fact, since September of ‘09, the percent of working-age Americans has toggled between 58.7{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} and 58.2{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}. It was as low as 58.5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in March of this year.

Thanks to Uncle Sam, you can see the data for yourself at: http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS12300000 . The analysis is easy: we’ve been flat-lined for years now.

The president’s often repeated promise of economic recovery just around the corner sounds sort of like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=055wFyO6gag

America’s job woes continue, but our pessimism is shrinking. While the job situation has been abysmal, Americans’ attitudes about the economy are changing. The Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment is an easy way to gauge the public’s mood. As expected, the average for 2009 was 66.3 – horrible, but four percent better than the year prior; ‘10 was 13{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} over ‘08 (71.8); ‘11 was a bit of a backslide (67.3); while ‘12 was a burst of comparative happiness (76.1 or 19{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} over ‘09); and to date, the average CCI has been comparatively euphoric (78.1 average or 23{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} over the ‘08 low water mark).

While the CCI has been structurally close to historic lows, it is now SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER than it was. And that’s what matters. See: http://www.sca.isr.umich.edu/data-archive/mine.php

Why do some Americans now have a sunnier disposition? The stock market for one. While the “recovery” has … uh… stiffed working stiffs, Wall Street and those who are smart enough with fortunes big enough to invest have REALLY done well. 2009 was the low water mark – as anyone with a 401K can vouch – the Dow spent the year at about nine thousand (8,876 average). Since then, it’s been pretty much nothing but rallies, averaging 14,370 for the year so far – or a whopping 38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} over the ‘09. In fact, four of the Dow’s 20 biggest days in history have been since ‘09.

DOW Yearly Averages

Here’s the clincher though: all this new wealth is going to 20{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} fewer people than before. The number of Americans invested in the market peaked in 2007 (65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), but has plummeted since – it’s now at 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.

Rebounding home values are another cause for optimism. The S&P/Case Shiller Index tracks home prices in America’s 20 largest metro areas. The index began measuring home prices in 2006, giving home prices since 2000 a base-line average score of 100, and has tracked the changes since. For example, a current index score value of 150 translates to a 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} appreciation rate since January 2000.

In ‘08, with the employment ratio still in the 60s, the index pegged average home values at a score of 166 for the year. As people dropped out of the workforce, home values shrank. By 2011, the average home price index had dropped almost 16{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to a year-long average of 140. If home values are Americans’ main measurement of wealth, 2011 was the bottom of the barrel.

Like the stock market, however, home values have rebounded significantly since. So far for the year, the S&P/Case Shiller Index has averaged 150 – up seven percent since rock-bottom. But, like the stock market, there are a lot fewer people sharing in the wealth. Home ownership (about 65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans) is at its lowest level in 15 years.

America’s shrinking population of homeowners are nowhere near recovering their lost wealth, but, with home prices on the up, this, along with the steadily rising stock market, has seemed to temper America’s economic pessimism.

And that is all part of “building an economy that works for everyone.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues.

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