The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 8, 2012

Our View: Middle class struggling

The Joplin Globe

— For the first time in nearly four years, the nation’s unemployment rate fell below 8 percent last week. On Friday, the Labor Department said only 7.8 percent of Americans who want work are unemployed.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will use the numbers for a new round of political boxing, with the former saying this is hardly sufficient and the latter noting that the country has added jobs for 24 straight months.

It might be a victory, but it’s a small one to celebrate. It’s like saying people who were once up to their necks in floodwaters can celebrate because the water has receded to their knees.

There’s not much reason to celebrate and still much work to do to restore the nation’s economic health.

The number of unemployed Americans who are out of work and still looking for a job tops 12 million. That’s the equivalent of the population of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. And that’s only those who are looking for work. Millions more have given up for now, perhaps permanently.

Unemployment has been the most intractable of the nation’s economic problems since this crisis began, and even with the latest numbers, remains so.

The surest way to create jobs is to revive the American middle class — to put money in its hands so its members can buy everything from cars to computers. Until that happens, the economy is always going to be running sluggishly. For decades, the middle class has seen its incomes and buying power stagnate because of flat or insignificant wage increases, which have been drowned out by rising energy, health care and education costs. Only by having multiple members of a household working — and taking on credit card and housing debt — has the middle class kept treading water.

Even though the country pushed through the 8 percent unemployment barrier — by just two-tenths of 1 percent, mind you — we see no evidence that middle class buying power is being revived. Wages are still stagnant. Costs are still rising. The long-term trend is not reversed.

For all the plans the two presidential candidates have laid out, we realize there is only so much the government can do, and truthfully, should have the power to do in reviving the economy.

Much of the revival will depend on employers reinvesting in employees. It will depend on an American middle class shaking off the personal debt that became a way of life for too long.