There seems to be persistent confusion about the current state of the economy and how it has changed since Barack Obama was sworn into office as President of the United States in January of 2009. There seems to be more confusion on one side than the other, politically speaking, and I suspect the source of that is probably Fox News. While political liberals get their news from a variety of sources (NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, massive sprawling blog networks, etc), political conservatives tend to have just a few. This magnifies the problem that Fox News presents.
There are many legitimate criticisms to be had of CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the Times, but they usually involve either accusations of bias or poor journalism (stenography; repetition and amplification of government views, usually anonymously). (I've always maintained that bias is not a problem because bias is inherent to analysis and yet not inherently wrong. Many people argue that Keith Olbermann was biased, to which Olbermann would reply that issue advocacy journalism was basically what Edward R. Murrow did back in the day. To be biased isn't wrong, being dishonest is. The issue with Fox News then, for me, has always been lies and intentional concealment of the truth.) Rarely do you hear anyone complaining that NPR or MSNBC are hiding good economic news for political gain.
Nothing really compares to the misinformation, or in this case a lack of information, coming from Fox News. It may be a fallacy to draw conclusions based solely on personal experience, but I find it amazing how solid the correlation seems to be, between a person who knows the wrong thing about subject X (as opposed to not knowing anything about subject X) and a person who regularly watches Fox News. If a majority of Americans support the Obama administration's proposed gun regulations, you can count on a Fox News viewer to come to the opposite conclusion. This has happened consistently with the economy.
Rather than go into that any further, since this isn't an indictment of Fox News, I'm just going to show you a few graphs I created using data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve. If you regularly watch Fox News, I'd simply ask you to ask yourself if you've seen these numbers or have heard any news about these improvements over the past four years. These are all accepted leading economic indicators that everyone in Washington and on Wall Street rely on. Dismissing them is as fake or fraud is true conspiracy theory territory -- our entire economy relies on this data. Ask Bank of America or Goldman Sachs, John Boehner or George W. Bush if they trust these numbers and they'll tell you that they do. The data is created by career civil servants that keep their jobs between administrations and can't be fired and replaced with political appointees. They have nothing to gain from gaming the data.
First up is the "U3" unemployment measurement. Whenever anyone serious is talking about unemployment, they are talking about U3. If they aren't talking about U3, then they aren't being serious about the economy, they are being serious about politics:
This is total employment, which is just what it sounds like: the total number of non-farm jobs in America:
These are first-time jobless claims. I've stretched out the timeline to 2006 for this graph because I know that most people (regardless of where they get their news from) won't know what a "normal" number of claims would look like. 2006 claims are more than we saw during the 1990s economic boom, but that year is well before the recession began:
Here is GDP (in billions, not %):
And for all the "Obama is anti-business" conspiracy theorists out there, you can finally give it a rest. Here's the Dow Jones Industrial Average covering the entire Bush administration as well as the first term of President Obama:
Core inflation is low, interest rates are low, unemployment has been dropping steadily, total unemployment has been rising, new unemployment claims has been falling, GDP has been rising, and the DJIA has nearly doubled since the bottom of the recession and is almost ready to set an all-new record high. If your source of information is telling you otherwise, or isn't telling you this stuff at all, perhaps it's time for you to find a new source of information, regardless of political bent.
Update - I wrote that anyone trying to hoc the "U6" unemployment measurement was making a political argument, not an economic argument, yet people (conservatives) still do it anyway. U6 is not an unemployment measurement, folks. It's total unemployment plus marginally attached workers plus part time workers who want full time jobs. Calling it "real unemployment" betrays total ignorance of the measurement. Besides that, U6 is always higher than U3 (what everyone uses) because it is the broadest measure of the labor force. There will always be a large number of part-time jobs out there no matter what. That doesn't make U6 real, or more useful. It's less useful, actually, precisely because it includes people who have part time jobs. U6 is *always* higher than U3, U4, and U5. It *always* looks awful:
That this has to be explained only serves to further prove the point that the right needs new sources of information that isn't going to misinform them, or leave them completely in the dark.
Even if you refuse to believe that U3 -- the number that everybody in D.C. and Wall Street uses -- is the "real" number, you can clearly see for yourself that U6 is always high, and that it always moves in concert with the other measurements because each successively higher number includes everything that came before it. Thus the difference between U6 and U3 today is the same as it was before the recession, from a proportional standpoint. The higher U3, the bigger the gap between U3 and U6, and the higher U6 will be. But as you can also see for yourself, U6 is never what we'd consider normal or low in the context of U3. Even when U3 was close to 4.1% or 4.2% in 2001, U6 was close to 7.5%.
There were two parts to the mess that Fox News creates. The first is hiding good economic news because it's bad for the GOP's agenda (savage spending cuts) which depend on a fiscal crisis (bad economy) for justification. Spreading misinformation about what's important and what's not is the other.