Numerical Disorder

Shortly after the November elections, our president elect announced his intention to create 3.5 million new jobs in our faltering economy by the end of 2010. During that month, according to the Labor Department, 533,000 more U.S. workers were added to the jobless rolls.

During December 681,000 workers were jettisoned and another 741,000 were laid off in January of this year – inauguration month.

We’ve been getting ad nauseam “bailout” reports from the media since last fall, and since then the gullible among us have been looking for the “bottoming out” that the administration has been forecasting – ad nauseam. But the only bottoming out occurring in February was the bottom that fell out from under the 651,000 U.S. workers that were thrown out of work that abbreviated month.

In March, according to the Labor Department, another 674,000 U.S. workers were axed from the payrolls, followed by 539,000 dismissals in April and 532,000 in May.

When Fortune revealed that 2008 was the worst year ever for the 500 largest corporations tracked by that business magazine, an astute forecaster made use of Al Jolson’s famous expression, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” – and he was prophetic. He was commenting on Fortune magazine’s announcement that 361,000 workers had been terminated in the first 5 months of 2008, but even he, as sharp as he was, hardly envisioned the 2009 figures for that corresponding period of time.

Those numbers for the first 5 months of 2009, as you can see, add up to 3,137,000 – an average of more than 625,000 per month. That’s almost ten times as many job losses as the paltry 361,000 during the disaster of a year ago. Well, there are disasters, and then there are disasters.

But not to worry. Those layoff numbers, the administration is telling us, are reducing every month. A good sign? – according to federal officials? Nope. A bad sign, according to that little fourth-grade analyst we met the other day. Those numbers are coming down because there are less and less jobs available to be fired from, she reminded us.

The AP published the following story on Monday, June 8th, and it was picked up by just about every newspaper in the country:

“Obama promises more than 600,000 stimulus jobs this summer — WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama promised Monday to deliver more than 600,000 jobs through his $ 787 billion stimulus plan this summer, with federal agencies pumping billions into public works projects, schools and summer youth programs.

“Obama is ramping up his stimulus program this week even as his advisors are ramping down expectations about when the spending plan will affect a continuing rise in the nation’s unemployment.

“Many of the stimulus plans that Obama announced Monday already were in the works, including hundreds of maintenance projects at military bases, about 1,600 state road and airport improvements, and federal money states budgeted for 135,000 teachers, principals and school support staff.

“Plan always called for summer as stimulus spending peak”, the report went on. “‘We have a long way to go on our road to recovery but we are going the right way,’ Obama said in a written statement prepared for his public announcement of the additional summer activity. ‘Our measure of progress is the progress the American people see in their own lives. And until that progress is steady and solid, we’re going to keep moving forward. We will not grow complacent or rest. Surely and steadily, we will turn this economy around,’ the statement said.”

Let’s hope that fourth grader doesn’t read that AP article. The first thing she’d do would be to open up her pencil box, take out her little hand-held calculator, and then she’d multiply $ 500 (an average week’s pay) by 600,000 (the number of imaginary jobs the president is talking about). The answer would appear as 300,000,000 – as in dollars per week. Then she’d multiply that answer by 12 (the number of weeks the $ 300 million would be paid out because the “Plan always called for summer as stimulus spending peak”). The answer she’d come up with, $ 3.6 billion – wouldn’t be a very encouraging one.

“If Mr. Obama is telling grownups that his $ 787 billion stimulus plan is ‘going the right way’, why is he spending only $ 3.6 billion?” she’d ask. “It sounds as though he and his advisors really don’t know how to turn the economy around,” she’d say.

It’s a good thing that youngster hasn’t learned yet about the futile WPA program in the 30s. That was a joke, as almost everyone now knows, but isn’t that exactly what today’s stimulus efforts are all about? Maintenance projects at military bases? State road and airport improvements? Public works projects and summer youth programs? What kind of stimuli could possibly be generated by those expenditures?, she’d ask. That kid would really get on our case.

Jobs that generate profit are the only types of employment that “will turn this economy around” because that’s how economies have always been sustained. Short term WPA-type employment produces nothing. We’ll end up with deserted roads, airports and schools because folks – jobless again – will be without paychecks again. And that’s what you’d call a real vicious circle.

A small fraction of that $ 787 billion stimulus package – like maybe $ 3.6 billion – could be used to revitalize about 100 U.S. shipyards. That would allow some $ 36 million to be spent on each site and would return the U.S. shipbuilding industry to its former position of dominance. Each of these shipyards yards could easily deliver 10 of our patented container ships every year, and more than 6,000 vessels would be delivered, and sold, every six-years. Within weeks, approximately 50 million on and off-site workers would be on the job. Permanently.

50 million workers, each making $ 100,000 annually, would be earning a combined $ 5 trillion – and $ 5 trillion per year of spendable income would stimulate any economy. Permanently.

[But $ 787 billion of untraceable taxpayer’s money? What a waste.]