Lawmakers are in a knot over everything from the Affordable Care Act to finding a rare congressional kumbaya moment for a budget deal. But perhaps you haven't noticed – it seems as if the last thing anyone in Washington, D.C. wants to talk about is employment.
That's fairly strange, considering it's still rather rough out there as far as job markets go. The general public feels the same way. Not that this should be a preferred pathway to quality living, but one suspects that if given a choice, most individuals would naturally gravitate to being employed over having health care. The latter typically gets prioritized once you make sure you have the ability to clothe, feed and house yourself.
A recent United Technologies-National Journal poll discovered the obvious: Most Americans, 3-to-1, would rather Congress get to the business of boosting job growth. A majority in a later UT-NJ poll engaged in a bit of wishful thinking, with 56 percent confident that Washington would pass a jobs creation bill.
On average, more than 64 percent of respondents to a YouGov poll said everyone in Washington – White House, Republicans and Democrats – should be doing more about the jobs situation. Still, Congress seems more obsessed with balancing budgets, eliminating deficits and fixing broken websites than creating jobs.
As congressional midterms start shaping up, strategists in both parties are telling candidates to focus on "Obamacare" pros and cons. Just what we need: another long political year with little said or done about job prospects, but more annoying reruns about the health care law.
It doesn't help, of course, that partisans have somehow hyped themselves into a false sense of security about the unemployment situation. Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill use the latest decrease in the unemployment rate to justify the respective spin for that day – and they are also heinously using it to ignore the plight of the long-term unemployed as a way to justify passage of a two-year budget deal.
Faithful Democrats eager to spin away from any focus on that pesky health care website happily latched on to recent Bureau of Labor Statistic numbers. Who knew you could celebrate a 7 percent jobless rate? Apparently you can now, especially if "it's the lowest in five years!" But folks inside the Beltway echo chamber forgot to tell the rest of the weary public about that, particularly the 1.3 million or more soon to lose long-term unemployment benefits.
Stingy Republicans are only concerned with keeping the deficit and debt under control. Thus, any hint or sign that unemployment is lower now than it was four years ago means it's time to stop helping the unemployed altogether. Jobless benefits, complained Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last week, " ... do a disservice to workers, causing them to become part of this perpetually unemployed group."
Neither side offers much hope for the massive 42 percent of the population that's either unemployed or underemployed. Once the real numbers behind the numbers are crunched, it's a completely different story: The official rate billboarded on Bureau of Labor Statistics and White House press releases might show 7 percent, but few dare venture into the dungeon of a much more depressing reality, such as what the St. Louis Federal Reserve calls the EMRATIO, the Civilian Employment-Population Ratio.
In 2000, nearly 65 percent of the entire U.S. population over the age of 15 was employed; now, only 58 percent of the population is unemployed (see for yourself). Party-pooping economist John Williams – who specializes in clowning government statistics – will also show you the difference between the federal government's preferred "U3" model versus its keep-it-hundred "U6."
In essence, the 7 percent only shows those still reporting in to the government that they're unemployed. It's not counting those who are underemployed or just had enough after months or even years of finding no gig.
Not that Congress is doing anything about that by holding weekly hearings on the Affordable Care Act implementation. Maybe President Obama's low approval numbers are telling us something else. Maybe folks are just tired of Congress constantly talking about him when they should be talking about us.
(Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. You can reach him via Twitter.)