Nation's economy should get top billing

Published 8:51 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
Over the past few years our nation has seen many changes on several different fronts. While many of the changes stemmed from the Sept. 11 attacks, we have also witnessed a continuing downward trend in our economy that many say began prior to the terrorist strikes. Either way, the attacks were certainly no help to an economy that was already sputtering. Add to that the corruption that has been exposed within some companies and we have the makings of a legitimate recession.
With the threat of war in the Middle East looming, we have seen gas prices soar. It almost seems that we have seen price increases on everything from prescriptions to groceries. With folks losing their jobs and unable to find new ones, it is no wonder that we find ourselves in today's predicament.
We did get some good news on the employment front last week as the unemployment rate for January dropped to 5.7 percent, the lowest it has been in two years. The rate was 6 percent for December and many economists were expecting that number to hold. But, some economist say the drop is due to forecasters adjusting for seasonal firings that typically come in January after the Christmas shopping season. But, since fewer retail employees were hired in December than usual, fewer were fired, so December's payroll figure looked worse than it really was, and January's number probably looks better than it is.
Many of us are beginning to feel the crunch from the recession. At the very least some of us are witnessing the effects of the slow economy. We may have family or friends who have lost their jobs and are looking for work. Some of us may even be dealing with unemployment within our own households.
The U.S. labor market has been weak for more than two years. The manufacturing sector started cutting jobs late in the year 2000, and the rest of the economy followed suit after a recession began in March 2001, with the pace of layoffs accelerating after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
While there are no forecasts for a recovery, there have been some signs of life. The manufacturing sector, which has shed jobs every month since August 2000, lost 16,000 jobs in January - the lowest decline since July 2002.
In another hopeful sign from Friday's report, the labor force - the number of people either working or out of work and looking for a job - grew by 328,000 to about 145.8 million. In seriously depressed labor markets, the labor force will sometimes shrink as discouraged workers give up their job searches and take themselves out of the labor force.
Of that work force, about 8.3 million people are unemployed, down from 8.7 million in December. The government estimated 74.1 million people are not in the labor force.
While these indicators may give some hope, they certainly aren't much comfort to those who are in danger of losing their jobs. Now is the time for all of our leaders, from the smallest of municipalities to the Oval Office, to work on revitalizing our economy and putting Americans back to work.
While President Bush addressed the problem during his State of the Union, I fear that the problem may not be getting the attention it needs.
It is a hard time for those who make the ultimate decisions for our country. To a certain degree, Bush has been a victim of the times. He has been forced to deal with both domestic and international crisis. I for one do not envy his position.
Despite these problems, the most important is the most immediate crisis which is America's economic health. Without job growth and a strong market, financing a war may be hard to explain.