Sunday, October 07, 2012

President Houdini, the Employment Magician

 by Chriss Street

 All great magicians employ misdirection to create miraculous illusions, leaving their audiences stunned and confused.  President “Houdini’s” miraculous creation of 873,000 jobs in the month of September magically drove down the national unemployment rate from 8.1% to 7.8%, just as absentee voting begins.  The trick left Republicans and economists equally befuddled, since the last time a similar monthly jobs increase appeared was June of 1983 when the economy was growing at an astronomical 9.3% annual rate.   

But looking behind Barack the Great’s smoke and mirrors reveals that the President’s highly controversial July suspension of the “workfare” requirements that welfare recipients must actually do real work to be counted as employed seems to have dramatically reduced the U.S. Labor Department’s unemployment rate. 
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the “household survey”, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the “payroll survey”.   With most economists estimating the current U.S. economic growth at an anemic 1.5%, it seemed ludicrous that the Obama Administration could report a monthly gain of 873,000 jobs in the household survey, just short of the all-time record 900,000 jobs gain in June of 1983, when under President Ronald Reagan the economy was growing 6 times faster at 9.3%.  In fact, the same household survey report showed a recessionary slide of 195,000 jobs in July and another 119,000 decline in August.  Adding to the suspicions regarding the credibility of the household survey, the more reliable “payroll survey” that tracks the rate of jobs growth through IRS withholding data was unchanged from last month.

After the report, the internet “blew-up” with conspiracy theories that the employment numbers must have been consciously manipulated by the U.S. Labor Department to help the President’s reelection odds.  Even the highly-respected former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change the numbers.”

Like all spell-binding illusions, the real set-up for this phenomenally great employment report was engineered back on July 12, 2012, when the Obama Administration announced an Executive Order that eliminated President Bill Clinton’s highly-praised workfare reform that required welfare beneficiaries to get real job in order to continue to receive paymentsAccording to former Clinton Advisor Dick Morris, in 1996 Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott stated: “I don’t want anyone going to a truck drivers’ school that advertises on a matchbook cover and avoiding work.”  The Republicans included 42 U.S.C. § 615(a)(2)(B) in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) reform legislation to make sure every states’ welfare recipients were required to work in a real job and also inserted section 607 to prevent future secretaries of Health & Human Services (HHS) from waiving the real workfare requirement.

With 1.4 million of the two million families receiving TANF payments not actually in real jobs, Obama took heat for changing the work rules.  The Heritage Foundation warned:

in the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula  dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as ‘work.’ These dodges were blocked by the federal work standards. Now that the Obama administration has abolished those standards, we can expect ‘work’ in the TANF [welfare] program to mean anything but work.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former governor, howledthe linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.” Republican Congressional leaders screamed the waiver was a “blatant violation of the law” by allowing states to substitute “vocational educational training or job search/readiness programs” to “count as well” in meeting the work requirements. 
But as the heat dissipated and the campaign news cycle moved on, President Houdini was positioned to triumph.  No one knows just how many of the up to 1.4 million TANF welfare recipients have now been re-designated by the states government as “employed”, but isn’t it just magical how 873,000 people started working last month.  Is Barack Obama really the new Ronald Reagan?

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