By Hastings Wyman –
The politically important economic statistic has generally been the unemployment rate. If the rate is too high, many voters sympathize with those out of a job and many others fear that they may also suffer the loss of employment. But the steady decline in the unemployment rate in today’s economy has had little political impact. With the jobless rate at a respectable 5.3%, President Obama’s approval rating among union members is 52%, says Gallup, only one point above its lowest point, which was 51% at the beginning of last year. Moreover, union members generally give the president a higher rating than non-union workers, evidence that the Obama Administration is not benefitting significantly from the improved job statistics.
The reasons for this are varied. Wages are not rising as much as people would like. The stock market, which affects much of the workforce through 401K funds, has been gyrating, losing much of its luster of earlier this year. The much discussed issue of illegal aliens coming to the US angers many workers who blame them for taking American jobs and depressing wage increases. And the considerable publicity focused on serious declines in the economy of China, as well as continuing turmoil in European economies, has created an atmosphere of financial apprehension. All of these factors combined are keeping the lid on any increase in optimism the declining unemployment rate might have otherwise generated.
Even in the South, which has three governor’s races this fall, the improvements in the jobless rates, albeit not major, have not become a significant factor, as they usually are. In Kentucky, where the decline in the unemployment rate has been 1.0% over the past year, from 6.2% to 5.2%, the focus is on other issues – healthcare and environmental regulations – as well as the personalities of the two major party nominees.
In Louisiana, which has the most sluggish economy, the slight decline of 0.2% is not getting the attention that the state government’s budgetary problems have generated (though it might hurt Gov. Bobby Jindal’s already tanking presidential ambitions).
And in Mississippi, where the jobless rate has declined 1% since July, 2014, there isn’t a serious contest. Robert Gray, a genial truck driver and retired fireman who had never sought public office before and didn’t even bother to vote in the August 4 primary, won a very surprising upset victory over the Democratic establishment’s favorite, giving the already favored Gov. Phil Bryant (R) a lock on the General Election.
It is also noteworthy that Texas, despite the near-collapse of oil prices, still has a strong economy, with a 4.2% jobless rate, one of only four Southern states where the unemployment rate is lower than the national average of 5.3%.
Oklahoma was the only state in the South where the jobless rate increased, but the Sooner State’s already low 4.4% rate increased a mere 0.1%, hardly a cause for alarm in one of the nation’s most prosperous states.
Percentage unemployment rates by state
July/2014 July/2015 Change
Alabama 6.6 6.2 -0.4
Arkansas 6.0 5.6 -0.4
Florida 6.0 5.4 -0.6
Georgia 7.2 6.0 -1.2
Kentucky 6.2 5.2 -1.0
Louisiana 6.4 6.2 -0.2
Mississippi 7.5 6.5 -1.0
North Carolina 6.1 5.9 -0.2
Oklahoma 4.4 4.5 +0.1
South Carolina 6.4 6.4 –
Tennessee 6.6 5.7 -0.9
Texas 5.0 4.2 -0.8
Virginia 5.1 4.8 -0.3
US 6.2 5.3 -0.9