By Peter Morici
On Friday the Labor Department is expected to report the economy added 125,000 jobs in October and unemployment increased to 7.9 percent.
Hurricane Sandy should little affect these estimates as employer and household surveys were conducted earlier in October. Going forward, the hurricane will depress employment but only until the rebuilding begins in earnest. Rebuilding will raise employment and incomes later in 2013, but not enough to substantially alter the national economic picture.
If President Obama is reelected and delivers on campaign promises, the jobs picture will worsen.
The Long-Term Trend
Since peaking at 10 percent in October 2009, the jobless rate has fallen mostly because 6 million adults have chosen not to look for work. But for this phenomenon, the unemployment rate would still be 9.7 percent. More than 8 million part-time workers would like full-time work but can't find it. Adding in those folks, the unemployment rate is 14.7 percent.
In 2007, the last year before the financial collapse, the deficit was $161 billion with the Bush tax cuts in place, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Medicare prescription.
Over the last four years, the deficit has averaged $1.3 trillion. Additional tax cuts, such as the $95 billion payroll tax holiday, subsidies for green energy and electric cars, and social and regulatory programs, promoted by President Obama, caused this red ink.
Even with huge stimulus, convincing millions they don't want a job and compelling desperate workers to settle for part-time work has been the Obama Administration's most effective jobs program.
Though Congress may avoid sequestration, some temporary tax cuts, such as reduced Social Security taxes and elements of the Bush tax cuts benefiting high income families, will likely lapse and some combination of savings in entitlements and defense spending will be accomplished. Overall, these would lower the deficit in the range of $300 billion.
If reelected, President Obama promises additional stimulus—aid to state budgets under the guise of teacher retention, infrastructure projects and more subsidies for alternative energy projects.
When the dust settles, the deficit should be unchanged. However, the tax increases will come quickly but the additional spending will arrive with considerable lag. As take home pay is slashed and consumer spending slows, the economy easily could be thrown into a second, deep recession—double-digit unemployment by any measure.
Already, the sales of S&P 500 companies, which account for about 80 percent of publically traded enterprises, are flat, and business investment fell in the third quarter. Sustaining profits will require layoffs.
By mid 2013, the economy may well be in a recession from which it cannot easily be resurrected—a depression—caused by fundamental problems not addressed by President Obama. The growing trade deficits on oil and with China have been a huge drain on domestic demand, and those kill nearly 10 million jobs.
The Romney Alternative
If elected, Governor Romney promises to tackle China's undervalued currency and other mercantilist policies that run up the U.S. deficit with the Middle Kingdom, and open up more offshore and Alaskan oil reserves for development. Those polices would quickly boost demand and get the economy back on track.
Longer term, Romney policies to lower the trade deficit would substantially increase R&D spending—enough to permanently boost U.S. growth by several percentage points.
An economy growing at 4 or 5 percent a year, instead of its current 2 percent, would have far more resources to address issues like health care, the solvency of Social Security, an adequate national defense, and space exploration.
The choice this election is simple—more of the same, high unemployment and perhaps a permanent recession, or a new course that gets the economy growing more rapidly again.
Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and a widely published columnist.