The new employment figures: a healthy economy?, by Susan Estrich

The United States created 431,000 new jobs last month, a sign, we are told, of the good health of the economy.

You could have fooled me.

I am not a number cruncher. I’m talking about how the economy is feeling, which translates pretty directly to how voters vote.

And it doesn’t sound healthy, not at all.

A big part of the reason is inflation, of course, and the rising prices and little hidden taxes you find on menus, in Ubers and Lyft rides, and pretty much everywhere else. Believe it or not, gas stations in California actually advertise gasoline that is priced north of $6 a gallon. People are comparing notes on the cost of filling their tank, i.e. how much change you get per cent. It’s hard to feel like the economy is healthy when the cost of eggs, gas, and everything else keeps rising.

If the products are still there. Last week my local grocery store ran out of orange juice. They did not receive their deliveries for three days. “Supply chain.” I don’t know if it’s the same supply chain that delayed delivery of our dog food or the same supply chain that on a clear day shows huge container ships queuing 20 miles away from the Port of Los Angeles. But that 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 be gripping the country. This 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 supporting Ukraine and punishing Russia without cause a world war. It’s not exactly the kind of position you can literally rally, but it’s the best there is.

In California, the economic insecurity fueled by the gas crisis is also fueled by the homelessness crisis and the plague it has caused. Anyone who rides the subway and has to avoid the homeless people living there can’t really think the economy is particularly healthy. No one who walks over people on the way to get a cup of coffee from a local store, no one who sees a homeless person approaching someone for no reason other than their own mental illness, thinks, what a wonderful economy we live in. The joke here is that if we clean up California by sending homeless people back to where they came from, the rest of America will start looking like California’s worst. There are places that already do this. The scourge of homelessness is a drag on our sense of economic security.

Then there are the “help wanted” signs. Yes, there are jobs to be done. Fortunately. But the high starting salaries aren’t that high when you consider the price of a sandwich and a soda at lunch or what you pay to get around. And maybe my sample is biased, even though I help people from all walks of life, but finding the right job isn’t easier than ever: equal employment opportunity concerns drive to advertisements for jobs that don’t really exist, and the Internet is often a black hole for candidates, leading to a feeling of rejection and frustration that does not contribute to a positive view of the economy.

Ultimately, there are two issues that go to the heart of an incumbent’s status. The first is whether people think the country is heading in the right or wrong direction. The other is if they think the incumbent understands/cares about the issues of people like them. A healthy economy should help both, but the insecurity that is so much a part of the current economic climate is eating away at the sense of well-being that is so crucial to the president’s political health.

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

Photo credit: geralt on Pixabay

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