You can parse the numbers however you like, but the latest snapshot of the labor market released by the government on Friday tells a dismal story that is already familiar beyond the realm of professional economists and policymakers: The American economy is in grave trouble.
We have no engine for growth, no good reason for businesses to believe that actual human beings will soon have more money to spend, which means employers are inclined to hunker down and keep their costs low by limiting their writing of paychecks. In short, a feedback loop of declining fortunes.
The worst part is what most Americans know in their bones, not from government reports and the abstract musings of economists, but from the everyday fears that accompany glancing at their checkbooks and their latest credit card bills: There is no relief in sight. No one in a position to influence this depressing picture is expending real energy to improve it, and least of all inside the White House, where leadership is imperative.
It would be disingenuous to pin the blame for the chronically lean job market on the Obama administration. The blame goes back over more than a quarter-century: to Ronald Reagan, who turned tax-cut pandering into high art, thus making it politically impossible for his successors to tax the wealthy, thereby accelerating the economic inequality that has left so many Americans unable to spend; to Bill Clinton, who helped turn Wall Street into a wild-west casino, laying the ground for the worst financial disaster since the 1930s; to George W. Bush, who continued both of these projects while wasting our treasure on a pair of ill-conceived wars.
But we have every right to demand that the president of the moment lay out a serious and ambitious plan to dig ourselves out of this hole. On that score, Barack Obama -- who came into office with such grand plans and such a capacity to instill hope -- has proved a disappointing failure.