TAR HEEL VIEW: Let’s cheer real economic progress


Despite the chaos and growing fears about disunity among Americans that may cause lasting harm to our democracy, the United States is experiencing one of its most positive economic periods ever.

When the unemployment report is released Friday morning, it will likely show that a more than six-and-a-half-year streak of monthly job creation — the longest in U.S. history — continued in February, with little reason to believe it will come to an end in the near future. A report released Wednesday by payrolls processor ADP, which often foreshadows the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, found that 298,000 private-sector jobs were created last month, the biggest haul in the past three years.

The stock market’s performance has also been impressive. The Dow Jones Industrial Average grew by more than 166 percent during President Obama’s two terms while the S&P 500, a broader measure, tripled. Each continued setting new all-time highs since Donald Trump was elected and sworn in. This comes on the heels of the biggest annual increase in wage growth in 2015 in the country’s history — a growth that went mostly to the low-income and middle class.

Housing developments that stalled out throughout the country, including in the Carolinas, during the 2008 Great Recession have either since been finished or made way for even newer developments. Since the depths of the financial downturn, more than 15 million Americans have gone back to work. Gone are the days when analysts cheered job reports that showed we were “only” losing a few hundred thousand jobs in a month — which was better than the nearly 800,000 job loss that kicked off 2009 after economic output at the end of 2008 hit a nearly Great Depression-like level.

It’s been hard for many to celebrate the turnaround because of political infighting, and because everyone hasn’t benefited equally. Little more than half of Americans were invested in the stock market in 2016, according to Gallup. That’s among the lowest rates the polling company has ever found, meaning nearly half missed out on the big gains.

The black unemployment rate, while vastly improved from the worst days of the recession, remains twice as high as the white rate (the gap would be wider if prisoners were counted). And there are still too many rural areas, which once counted on strong manufacturing and retail industries, whose landscapes are dotted with hulled-out buildings that used to house good-paying jobs.

The economic pain is real. For far too many people, and groups, it is a generations-deep pain. But there are plenty of economic indicators strongly suggesting we are moving in the right direction. Even if it’s not worthy of major celebration, it should be appreciated.

We’ve seen darker days, even more reason to acknowledge progress when it’s achieved.

— The Charlotte Observer

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