We’re all part of the -0.1 percent now.
That was my first reaction to the news that the U.S. economy contracted at an annual rate of -0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, a sharp drop from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September period.
My second reaction was to pull out a copy of President Obama’s Inaugural Address and count the references to the word “economy” or “economic”: A measly three. While he boldly called for “collective action” to address global warming, to defend Medicare and Social Security, to guarantee equal pay for women and equal rights for gays, and to fortify the middle class, he did not put great emphasis on jobs or economic growth.
My guess is there is some frantic rewriting being done in the White House as the president’s team addresses a new reality for the State of the Union address: Jobs and the economy are top issues again.
In fact, for voters, the economy never receded as a top-of-mind issue while Washington got distracted by Obama’s victory, his aggressive new tone, and his broad agenda. It is understandable and even laudable of Obama to tackle big issues like climate change and immigration, but he knows (and has reminded us in his speeches) that the economic recovery is far from over. Also, as my colleague Catherine Hollander writes, these numbers alone are not cause for panic.
The challenge will be to help Washington walk and chew gum – to spur job growth, tame the budget, and tackle other mighty challenges, with each component putting pressure on the others.
“An economic recovery has begun,” Obama said in his Inaugural Address. “America’s possibilities are limitless … ”
Well, no they’re not -- at least not until we get our fiscal house in order, pump more jobs into the economy, and expand growth. While Obama has touted long-laid plans on the debt and joblessness, he risks once again raising expectations beyond his reach.