Debate Check: Holt Helps Hillary Bypass Failed Obama Recovery

Moderator joins Clinton effort to pretend the economy is working for ordinary Americans

The first presidential debate started off with some economic cheerleading by NBC News’ Lester Holt.

In one of the most positive spins on the worst economic recovery since World War II, Holt said: “There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Hillary Clinton has to defend this record … But Holt made it easier for her on Monday night — just a bit.

It was a way for Holt to let Hillary Clinton speak of the economic negatives she finds acceptable, but avoid a look at the real economic record — namely, by talking about class warfare and corporations. It was a nice setup for the Democratic nominee, because one of the challenges Hillary Clinton has is to spin the economic record of the current administration.

There isn’t much she could say to truly convince voters she is best for the economy. The last eight years don’t exactly make her case.

In fact, most U.S. counties have failed to fully recover from the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. Earlier this year, the National Association of Counties found that as many as 93 percent of U.S. counties had not recovered on four economic indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy, and home values by the end of 2015.

The recovery President Obama often refers to has moved slowly. By the end of 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal, only 65 counties had recovered on all four fronts.

The typical Democratic response has been to blame President George W. Bush for the recession and the housing bubble that caused it. But few Americans are buying that excuse now. The recession ended six months into President Obama’s first term, in July 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the academic arbiter of economic eras.

President Obama then proceeded to go full Keynesian, by adhering to old and largely discarded theories forged by the late English economist, John Maynard Keynes. The theories hold that the government should spend money beyond its budget to return the economy to full health.

No Western leader has indulged in the revival of Keynesianism more than President Obama. First, he ordered up and got a $830 billion stimulus from Congress. That was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “The Stimulus.” The money did not get spent as fast as Obama thought, leading him to remark that “shovel-ready” projects weren’t as shovel-ready as he thought. Yet Obama kept up deficit spending to the point where national debt now approaches $20 trillion, from $10 trillion when he took office.

And when Obama was re-elected in 2012, he broke another wrong kind of record. That year, he became the first president since FDR to be re-elected with such high unemployment, then at 7.9 percent.

Today, Obama boasts of 4.9 percent unemployment. But that low number has been made possible by people dropping out of the workforce, or halting their look for work. In August, only 62.8 percent were participating in the labor force.

mediaweeklyearningsThat’s a record-level number of about 94.4 million Americans not looking or working. About 14 million people have left the workforce since Obama took office, according to BLS stats.

But macroeconomic stats are relatively esoteric numbers. People relate to what they see in their own household, or next door. Or they look at their paychecks and compare them to previous years. If they are doing that regularly before Election Day, it’s bad news for Clinton.

Median wages decreased during the recession, and have not grown much. In the second quarter of 2007, before the recession, U.S. workers earned a median income of $335 a week, measured in constant dollars of the years 1982-1984.

Eight years later, in the second quarter of 2015, the median wage had only risen to $339, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A year later, the median had risen to $346. In nine years, Americans’ median income barely budged. For it to take almost 10 years for wages to recover is why some critics call Obama’s two terms the “lost decade.”

What new jobs are created are arguably not going to Americans, so great is the influx of foreign workers.

Government data showed that since 2000, all of the net gain in the number of working-age people holding a job has gone to immigrants, both legal and illegal, according to the Center for Immigration Studies’ research in June 2014. The center found that immigrants holding a job increased from 2000 by 5.7 million. But people working who were born in the United States decreased in the same time frame by 127,000.

Hillary Clinton has to defend this record. It’s one of the most unenviable tasks for any Democrat asking for a third term for his or her party. But Holt made it easier for her on Monday night — just a bit.

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