In recent months, GDP numbers have rebounded – primarily as a result of record low interest rates reliquifying the credit market and government stimulus jolting consumer spending. Although the "positive growth" has delighted Obama's economic brain trust, it has done little to boost the fortunes of Main Street. As I have said many times, GDP largely measures spending, and spending is not growth.
Last Friday we received the latest indication that the real economy is not recovering in the slightest. The Labor Department reported that non-farm payrolls increased by 431,000 jobs in May. In a press statement, the President himself crowed at the news, noting that the official employment rate fell to 9.7% from 9.9%. However, just inches below the headline, red flags were everywhere. Only 41,000 of those jobs were generated in the private sector – far below the median forecast of 180,000. Even more troubling was the fact that the Census Bureau alone accounted for 411,000 new jobs, which were almost exclusively temporary positions.
Rather than a recovery, the jobs data seems to indicate that we are still mired in the first economic depression since the 1930s. Back in 1931, two full years after the Crash of 1929, there were still very few people who thought that the recession then underway would one day be called the Great Depression. (See my commentary from March 1st "Don't Bet on a Recovery.")
Increased spending, financed by unprecedented borrowing, will prove to be just as temporary as a US census job (unless, in the name of stimulus, Obama decides to make "people counting" a permanent function of the US government). When the bills come due, the next leg down will be even more severe than the last.
The swelling ranks of the government payroll, and the shrinking number of private taxpayers footing the bill, will guarantee larger deficits and a weaker economy for years to come. In addition, the artificial spending has prevented a much-needed restructuring from taking place, leaving our economy far less efficient than before the crisis began. In other words, we have dug ourselves into a much deeper hole while failing utterly to build any means to climb out.