Reclaiming Reagan’s Economic Voice

Despite a shrinking economy in the first quarter and outright declines for consumer spending and manufacturing in April, the May jobs report delivered the fourth-straight monthly gain above 200,000, with nonfarm payrolls jumping 217,000. This is the best four-month increase since late 1999. And finally — after five years — total U.S. payrolls rose above the previous employment peak set in January 2008. (On the 10th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s death, it’s worth noting that the Gipper’s supply-side policies reclaimed all the lost jobs from the 1981-82 recession in a matter of months.) As for the unemployment rate, it held steady at 6.3 percent. And the underemployment rate (U-6) dropped a tenth to 12.2 percent.

So overall, this was a positive report. And it’s good to see more Americans working. But there are still some serious warts in the jobs story.

One of those warts is a low 2.1 percent wage gain for the workforce. Wage growth for the last couple of years has been stuck around 2 percent. Even optimistic economist Mike Darda calls this “unimpressive take-home pay.” Worker wages are barely running ahead of inflation.

Another blemish in the jobs picture is the rock-bottom employment-to-population ratio. It’s sitting at only 58.9 percent, versus a pre-recession peak of 63.4 percent. And the labor-force participation rate didn’t move in May. It’s stuck at 62.8 percent.

Looking at working-age demographics, some believe there’s a jobs gap of nearly 7 million. And economist Scott Grannis notes that while private-sector jobs have been growing at roughly 2 percent for years, productivity has slumped to less than 1 percent.

So putting it all together, overall economic growth is still trapped in a sub-par growth zone. And it will remain there, Grannis says, “unless and until policies in Washington become more growth-friendly (e.g. reduced tax and regulatory burdens).”

Aha! Growth-friendly policies.

As you know, this is an election year. So let’s see where the two political parties stack up on the subject of growth.

The Democrats want a minimum-wage hike. That may sound great on the surface, but it’s actually a big job loser for the least-skilled and poorest among us. President Obama and his EPA have launched a war on coal, which will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs if implemented. And then there’s Obamacare, which the CBO estimates will cost at least 2.5 million jobs.

Not a lot of growth-friendly policies coming from the Democrats.

But what of the Republicans? Where are their growth policies? Alas, with some notable individual exceptions, I fail to see a united GOP growth message.

The YG Network, chaired by Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has put out a white paper called “Room to Grow.” Nice title. But the chapter on tax reform actually attacks supply-side economics, and it never even mentions corporate tax reform.

Readers know that corporate tax reform is my single-favorite pro-growth policy. Actually, I’d like to abolish the corporate income tax altogether — including all the cronyist, big-government special favors, carve-outs, deductions, and exemptions. Out with all the K Street mischief.

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