Market Indexes and Economic Strength

The Dow Jones Industrials closed at a new high last Tuesday, running over 14,250.  This performance is being touted as having put the vicissitudes of the Panic of 2008 behind us.

Certainly, the stock market has been good for investors like me, which I hinted at a while ago.  And guys like Chief Investment Officer Jack Ablin, of BMO Private Bank, which manages about $66 billion think so, too.

It really does represent an achievement that we have climbed out of this crater.

There is a dangerous misapprehension in this, though.  In fact, the damage done by the Panic remain with us in our failed recovery:

  • unemployment remains near 8%, and higher than when President Barack Obama took office
  • total lack of employment, in which term I include underemployed and those who’ve given up, remains near 14%
  • our labor force participation rate 63.8% which is down from 65.8% in Dec 2008
  • 12 million Americans remain without jobs, an historic high for “recoveries” as old as this one
  • 4.7 million Americans remain long-term unemployed; this is 38% of our total unemployed
  • nearly 48 million Americans are on food stamps today, a 70% increase over the roughly 28 million of us in Dec 2008
  • Americans below the poverty level number 46 million, or 15% of us, as of 2011, compared with 13%, or 39.5 million, at the end of the pre-Obama years
  • $6 trillion have been added to our national debt

And so on.

The failed recovery, the damage from the Panic, the real economy of real Americans are all still with us.  Pay no attention to the market behind the curtain.

Update: Today’s jobless report has the unemployment rate falling to 7.7%, the lowest in nearly five years.  Looking behind this number, though, the labor force participation rate, which governs the denominator in the unemployment rate calculation, fell to 63.5%.  This represents a loss of 130,000 Americans from that participation rate.  The fall in the unemployment rate seems a smaller drop when put in context.

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