Economic trouble for Obama?

The little recovery that couldn't: A sudden spate of worrisome economic data sours the short-term outlook

Topics: U.S. Economy,

One bad economic data blip is easy to ignore. When jobless claims jumped up sharply a week ago, analysts blamed Easter-related calendar irregularities and warned that there is always a lot of “noise” in a weekly data series. But then the number of new claims remained uncomfortably high in the report released yesterday, and brows started furrowing everywhere (except, perhaps, in Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters.)

Suddenly, the four-week moving average, a gauge designed to smooth out all that weekly noise, was up to its highest point since January. Coming on top of a weaker-than-expected labor report for March, signs that industrial production growth is slowing, and continued softness in housing, the conventional wisdom on the state of the economic recovery took a swift turn for the bearish. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal immediately published nearly identical articles, “Fears Rise That Economic Recovery May Falter in the Spring,” and “Economic Signals Stir Worries.”

We’ve seen this movie before. Last year, at almost exactly the same point in the spring, a nascent recovery curled up in the fetal position and expired. But that time around, there were obvious reasons for the slowdown: the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster in Japan, panic over the European sovereign debt crisis, a Libya-related gas price spike, and the prospect of a government shutdown.

This time, there haven’t been any disasters to shake up global supply-and-production chains. Europe, while still a mess, doesn’t seem as perilously close to implosion as it did a year ago. Yes, gas prices spiked again, but may already have peaked. All of which, paradoxically, contributes to a sense of greater unease. If there are no clear external factors explaining the sputtering U.S. recovery, then maybe the relatively strong performance at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 was just a mirage.



Except, here’s what we do know. By just about every measure, the U.S. economy is significantly stronger now than it was a year ago. Retail sales are up, auto sales are surging, and labor markets are much more stable. Tax receipts for most states have exceeded their pre-recession highs. American households are loaded down with less debt. Estimates of GDP growth for the first quarter of 2012 have steadily risen over the last two months. In the long-term, a very slow recovery still appears to be solidly in place. That’s good news for the United States.

But with a presidential election seven months away, America’s attention is all focused on the short-term. And from a Democratic perspective, time is fast running out for an economic recovery to have any meaningful positive effect on Obama’s chances for retaining the White House. The opposite may be more likely to be true: If elevated jobless claims translate into another weak labor report for April, negative sentiment about the state of the economy may solidify, regardless of whatever long-term trends are in place.

The first round of polling since Mitt Romney locked down the Republican nomination for president suggests that the election in November will be excruciatingly close. A strong economic recovery, consolidating throughout a long summer, could have changed that calculus. But as of right now, the economy is saying, as clearly as we can interpret its muddled, contradictory, constantly shifting signs: Don’t look to me for help: You’re on your own.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>