Businesses hired 214,000 net new workers in October, and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest since the financial crisis. All in all, not a bad employment report. So why are Americans so disgruntled?
What economists call the headline numbers — payroll jobs and unemployment — are both headed in the right direction for the first time since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
At 5.8%, the jobless rate is the lowest since June 2008. The broader U-6 measure, which includes discouraged workers and part-time workers who want full-time work, has fallen to 11.5%, also the lowest since 2008.
But beneath the improvement, there's an unsettling disquiet about the economy. In our most recent IBD/TIPP Poll, consumer confidence remained in pessimistic territory for the 25th month in a row in November, while 43% of Americans said we're still in a recession.
Despite 2.6 million jobs created since last year and what could be the best year for job growth since 1999, Americans dumped Democrats in the 2014 midterms.
What's going on here? We've had decent job creation of late, but many don't feel its benefits.
Real median household incomes fell 6.6% from $55,627 in 2007 to $51,939 at the end of last year. It will take years to recoup that loss. Meanwhile, male workers' incomes have been in a tailspin for over a decade.
Private-sector wages grew 2% from last year in October — just barely ahead of the 1.7% rise in inflation.
So lack of opportunity stemming from 2% GDP growth and slow-growing family incomes have put average Americans in a sour mood.
And some say it might not go away soon — if ever.
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik recently asked, "Is the U.S. economy in a permanent slump?" He cited some liberal-establishment economists — like Paul Krugman and Larry Summers — who even have a fancy name for it: "secular stagnation."
Sorry, there's nothing secular about it.
It's policy failure. We and others repeatedly warned that President Obama's massive stimulus, cheap money and heavy-handed regulation were a recipe for stagnation. That's exactly what happened.
Each era of big government tinkering ends with the the economy being systematically run into the ground by Keynesian policymakers — and with economists pondering whether it'll always be this way.
"Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" President Reagan famously asked in the 1980 campaign. Today, Americans seem to be saying no.