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The New Job Numbers: A Healthy Economy?

Susan Estrich on

The United States added 431,000 new jobs last month, a sign, we are told, of how healthy the economy is.

You could have fooled me.

I'm not a numbers cruncher. I'm talking about how the economy feels, which translates pretty directly into how voters vote.

And it doesn't feel healthy, not at all.

A big part of the reason is inflation, of course, and the rising prices and hidden little taxes you find on menus, in Ubers and Lyft rides, and just about everywhere else. Believe it or not, in California, gas stations actually advertise gas that is priced north of $6 a gallon. People compare notes on how much it cost to fill their tank -- that is, how much change you get for a hundred. It's hard to feel like the economy is healthy when the cost of eggs and gas and everything else keeps going up.

If the products are even there. Last week, my local grocery store ran out of orange juice. They didn't get their deliveries for three days. "Supply chain." I have no idea whether that's the same supply chain that delayed our dog food delivery or the same supply chain that, on a clear day, shows off huge container ships waiting in line 20 miles from the port of Los Angeles. But it doesn't matter.

The fact that everything costs so much more if you can even find it leads to a sense of economic insecurity that seems to pervade the country. It helps explain why, if the economy is so healthy, the president's approval ratings are so low. It's not just the war in Ukraine, where the truth is that the president is doing precisely what the majority of us want him to do, which is to support Ukraine and punish Russia without causing a world war. Not exactly the sort of stance you can literally rally around, but it's the best there is.

 

In California, the economic insecurity that is fed by the gas crisis is also fed by the homeless crisis, and the blight it has caused. No one who rides the Metro and has to avoid the homeless people who live there can really think that the economy is particularly healthy. No one who steps over people on their way to get a cup of coffee at a local shop, no one who witnesses a homeless person accost someone for no reason except their own mental illness, thinks to themselves, what a wonderful economy we live in. The joke out here is that if we clean up California by sending the homeless back where they come from, the rest of America will start looking like the worst of California. There are places that already do. The blight of homelessness is a drag on our sense of economic security.

Then there are the "help wanted" signs. Yes, there are jobs to be had. Thankfully. But the high starting salaries aren't quite so high when you take into account the price of a sandwich and soda at lunch or what you pay to commute. And maybe my sample is skewed, though I help people from all walks of life, but finding the right job is no easier than it has ever been: Equal Employment Opportunity concerns lead to advertisements for openings that don't really exist, and the internet is often a black hole for applicants, leading to a sense of rejection and frustration that does not contribute to a positive view of the economy.

At the end of the day, there are two questions that go to the heart of an incumbent's status. One is whether people think the country is headed on the right or wrong track. The other is whether they think the incumbent understands/cares about the problems of people like them. A healthy economy should help on both, but the insecurity that is so much a part of the current economic climate eats away at the sense of well-being that is so crucial to the president's political health.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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