Last week, over a long, late dinner with friends, our discussion turned to their recent trip to Australia. They remarked that the country appeared to be full of "optimism," "energy," and "enthusiasm." People were on the move, getting to work and prosperity was in the air.
It reminded me of the commercial President Ronald Reagan used in the 1984 election, "It's morning in America." The feelings that our friends picked up on in Australia were the same ones that we used to feel in our country and in our economy. We were busy; we were optimistic; we were prospering — or were confident that we would be soon.
Australia had a 4.9 percent unemployment rate in July. No wonder the atmosphere is buzzing.
The United States unemployment rate for July remained at 9.1 percent (13.9 million people). Another 8.4 million persons were employed part-time, but would like to be employed full-time. A third set, 2.8 million persons, were not counted as unemployed, but have not looked for a job in the past 12 months. Combined, 25.1 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed, or discouraged.
That is a lot of untapped energy and potential, if we can just figure out how to get people the jobs that they want.
Currently, 46 million Americans, 15 percent of our population, receive food stamps. This is more than twice the number of Americans who were receiving food stamps during the Bush expansion. Food stamps' continued climb is exacerbated by the weak job market.
No wonder we don't feel the buzz of optimism and prosperity that our friends down-under do. We are down and out — down in optimism, out of jobs and in need of solutions to put people to work.
Our situation has not been helped by recent events in Washington. The recent debt-ceiling compromise has been hailed by some as a victory, and by others as a defeat.
For most of us who are cutting back on our expenditures by watching our dollars and pennies, the numbers are so large (billions and trillions) that we cannot comprehend their meaning.
In an attempt to make the dollars understandable, here are the dollar amounts per household (based on the 112.6 million U.S. households in 2009, according to the United States Census Bureau):
- Current federal government debt per household: $126,728
- 2011 forecasted U.S. federal revenue (taxes paid): $19,302
- 2011 forecasted U.S. expenditures: $33,911
- 2011 forecasted U.S. deficit: $14,608
- 2012 savings of the debt-ceiling deal: $186
To continue this example, pretend that a family makes $19,302 per year, and is $126,728 in debt. They plan on spending $33,911 this year and are borrowing an additional $14,607 to do so. So, in an attempt to make ends meet, they sit around the kitchen table and decide to cut back.
At the end of a long, hard review, they agree to spend $186 less than they had originally planned for next year. Additionally, they promised that they would spend less later on (the 10-year figure for debt deal savings of $2.1 trillion equals $18,648 per household).
They are still spending more that they are making. Should they congratulate themselves on spending less than originally planned, or should they find more cuts in spending?
Wow. The challenge that we have as a nation is that we have become used to our government spending more than it takes in. When things go wrong, the government spends.
Government spending cannot be the solution because we cannot continue to spend ever-increasing sums of money, unless, we print more money. But if we do that, inflation will eventually catch up to us. So what is the solution? To spend less and engage more.
"Seventy-seven percent of Americans said the U.S. economy is getting worse in the week ending Aug. 7," noted a Gallup press release this past Tuesday. "This is up from 71 percent two weeks prior and 64 percent a month ago. Substantially more Americans say the U.S. Economy is getting worse right now than said so at this time a year ago."
Once again, the phrase coined by James Carville, and used by Bill Clinton during his 1992 successful presidential race comes to mind, "It's the economy, stupid."
Job, jobs, and more jobs should be the focus. With 25.1 million persons who are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged, we have to figure out a way to create jobs. There is a lot of untapped energy and potential in these people, if we can just figure out how to get them the jobs that they want.