A big hint

A BIG HINT…. The New York TimesDavid Leonhardt considers the latest job numbers and makes a sound observation.

The overall picture isn’t so much of a double-dip recession as it is of a badly wounded economy recovering at a slow pace.

But that’s not much to get excited about it. If the Senate and the Federal Reserve were waiting for more information to decide whether the economy needed more help, they just got it.

Right. There’s been something of a debate among policymakers about whether the economic recovery is strong enough to be self-sustaining. The stimulus has been carrying the economy for more than a year, and additional help may no longer be needed.

Except, we’re getting big, bright, unmistakable answers to these questions.

For those of you who emailed this morning to argue that the jobs report wasn’t that bad, I hear you. May’s report was exaggerated in one direction by the addition of Census jobs, and June’s report was exaggerated in the other direction by the Census cutting back. If the key to sustained growth is private-sector hiring, June’s totals were about double what we saw in May, and for the first six months of 2010, there have been about 600,000 private-sector jobs created — the best six-month span in quite a while.

All of this is true. But no sane person should consider the employment crisis — and it is an employment crisis — and think, “Yep, everything’s fine. Let’s stop worrying about the economy and start worrying about the deficit.”

Obviously, the opposite is true. Policymakers have the ability to make things better; they just have to muster the political will to address the problem.

But they won’t, in part because lawmakers are convinced voters will punish policymakers who prioritize the economy over the deficit, and in part because Republicans broke the Senate. A new jobs bill could probably pass Congress in one day, but the GOP won’t let legislation get up-or-down votes anymore. Hell, we can’t even pass extended unemployment benefits — actual job creation efforts are practically out of the question.

Ezra Klein added this morning, “The fact that things are getting better most months, though worse in some months, obscures both how bad the situation is and how rapid our improvement has to be to really make a dent in it. But in the Senate, Republicans and Ben Nelson are objecting to using emergency legislative powers to pass further unemployment benefits, and their seems to be no appetite to try to intervene in this crisis in any further way.”

In some instances, we don’t see a crisis coming, and are caught off guard. In other instances, we see the crisis coming, but aren’t sure how to respond. In this instance, the problem and solution are pretty obvious, but we lack the ability and will to act.