This year, American workers don't need Labor Day as a reason to focus on jobs and the economy. Every family is concentrating on keeping the jobs they have, closely monitoring their finances — or searching for new jobs and struggling to hold on to their homes. And every politician from Congress to the county commission is preparing to talk about jobs from now until November. Today is a day to relax, take stock and prepare to wade through the vague campaign promises in search of real solutions. • Despite the considerable efforts by the Obama administration, the economy remains fragile and there are too few jobs for the millions looking for work. On Labor Day 2009, the jobless rate was 9.7 percent. Today it remains stuck at 9.6 percent and the economic recovery remains awfully weak. While companies added 67,000 net jobs in August, the unemployment rate ticked up because so many more people are looking for work.
Some 763,000 jobs have been added this year — a step in the right direction but hardly a dent in the 8.4 million jobs lost in the past two years. The economy in the second quarter was significantly weaker than first thought, growing at just 1.6 percent instead of the initial estimate of 2.4 percent. Median prices of existing homes appear to have stabilized this spring in the Tampa Bay market and elsewhere, but they are still far below what they were even two years ago. Consumer confidence in Florida and the nation is stagnant, and the real question is what to do next.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke seems to have run out of hope for innovative fixes or a strong quick turnaround, standing pat for now but promising to take further steps if the economy worsens. Republicans are misleading voters by claiming the federal stimulus has been a failure. In fact, more than 3 million jobs — including tens of thousands in Florida — have been saved or created. Investment banks are repaying the federal government, and the auto industry is healthier, making money and better positioned for the future than before Washington intervened. The Obama administration should be pointing to these accomplishments instead of ceding to Republican hyperbole, but arguing the economy could be far worse is not the most effective campaign slogan to a frustrated electorate.
The question to ponder this Labor Day is which approach has the best prospects for creating jobs and improving the broader economy. Obama renewed his call Friday for Congress to extend the Bush administration's tax cuts for the middle class and to pass pending legislation to increase lending and cut taxes for small businesses. But even that small business bill is stalled, and Republicans want all of the Bush tax cuts extended. Exactly how does that mesh with reducing the federal deficit?
Enjoy Labor Day, and celebrate the determination and resilience of the American work force. It's going to be a long campaign season.