Don’t Forget the Actual Jobless, and Don’t Forget the Fed’s Responsibility

Matt Yglesias manages to make two important points about the May jobs report (and the larger economic picture) in one paragraph:

A lot of this is already getting fed through an election year politics lens, but it’s important to remember that this is first and foremost a human tragedy for unemployed and underemployed people, and for employed workers who’ve been stripped of bargaining power due to persistent labor market weakness. If growth stays dismal and Barack Obama loses the election, he and Michelle and Jack Lew and Tim Geithner and all the rest will go on to have happy, healthy, prosperous lives. Other people’s careers are much more in the balance. And the responsibility for addressing this crisis lies first and foremost with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the one institution in the U.S. government specifically charged with focusing on macroeconomic stabilization. For months now they’ve been dawdling instead of rolling up their sleeves and thinking as hard as they can about what to do to increase demand and employment.

On the first point, I think progressives need to make it clear that the worst thing about Americans reacting to a weak economy by punishing Barack Obama isn’t that Barack Obama gets punished or the “other team” wins office, but that we have every reason to believe that the lives of the very people out of work or otherwise struggling economically today will take a large turn for the worse if Mitt Romney is president and Republicans control Congress. Even if you believe GOP policies will in the end boost growth and eventually reduce unemployment, the policies they are promising to implement immediately will be a disaster for the most vulnerable in our society.

And on the second point: yeah, the Fed has a lot to answer for. Perhaps, even probably, Obama wasn’t bold enough on the fiscal front back in those critical days of 2009, but he was facing an extraordinary amount of opposition, some in his own party. The Fed had no such excuse, and doesn’t now, either.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.