Earlier today President Obama was ridiculed by his Republican rivals for asserting “The private sector is doing fine.” The statement came during a brief press conference with the president of the Philippines, where he was urging Congress to act on public sector job creation.
While the six word phrase garnered the most attention, the context in which it appeared was largely ignored. The full statement made by the president was;
“We've created 4.3 million jobs over the last ... 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility of the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
In many cases like this context is everything. Obama was illustrating a comparison between the performance in the private sector and that of the public sector. The President identified areas of progress, 4.3 million new jobs, 800,000 in the last year alone and over two years of ongoing private sector growth. The public sector has actually become a hindrance to the state of unemployment in the US. Through budget cuts at the state and local levels, much of which have occurred in Republican states, thousands of public sector employees have lost their jobs. These losses negated the gains made in the private sector, increased unemployment benefit expenditures and disrupted the lives of those people who found themselves suddenly out of work.
Was Obama inaccurate in his statement that the private sector is doing fine? Examined on their own, the private sector numbers are not wildly impressive but compared to the public sector, yes, they are doing well. In addition to the President's figures, GDP increased from 0.4% in March 2011 to 3.0% by the end of the year and has since fallen off to 2.2%. But considering the historical average resides at about 3.8% for a health economy, the US is not doing all that bad especially when compared to Europe which is expecting less than 1% growth over the next year. From December 2011 to February 2012 the economy added more than 200,000 jobs each month with manufacturing industries leading the way, as opposed to the typical, temporary seasonal job growth seen during the holidays.
So should Obama be criticized and even ridiculed as being out of touch for making this comment? Perhaps, a bit. But compared to Mitt Romney's unfortunate statement, “You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus." or his assertion the country does not need more firemen, policemen or teachers, or even Chris Christie's conclusion that firing government workers means the country is moving in “the right direction,”, the President's out-of-context remark was a more appropriate observation of the real world situation.
At the end of May Romney stated, “We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”. While inaccurate, the comment exemplifies the GOP perception of government workers. In their view, as government workers themselves, those who work for the government apparently are not considered valued members of the American workforce. The assertion that sending government workers home and putting “you”, presumably the private sector worker, back to work is simply asinine in its logic. Do members of the police force, grade school teachers, public health employees, snowplow drivers, water treatment plant workers, court stenographers, and park rangers occupy a lower status level than those who work for private businesses? Are they the expendable members of society who simply fade away once their departments' budgets are cut and they are laid off?
Whether or not this is the sentiment Mitt Romney and the Republican Party truly wish to communicate it most certainly is the one they do perpetuate. Government workers or private industry workers, they are all, each and every one of them, someone's father, daughter, friend or neighbor. None of them are faceless expendables who can be tossed out onto the street to satisfy some political chip. It's time for politicians to stop demonizing groups of their fellow Americans to simply score political points with an easily-swayed, narrow swath of the electorate.