Happy speculators don’t always signal healthy economy

Market watchers are celebrating every minor improvement on still-woozy Wall Street trading floors in sharp contrast to Middle America which continues to reel from worsening jobs reports. Is the recent bell-clanging rejoicing coming from daily stock reports really worth the ticker tape they’re printed on or should we be looking for a more accurate indicator of our nation’s economic fortunes?

Zach Carter at The Media Consortium Economic News Ladder pulls it all together with must-read stories from The Nation and Salon.

The U.S. economy just keeps getting worse. Given the absolute pummeling the job market has taken over the past five months, we’re going to need some much stronger medicine than policymakers are currently proposing. It’s increasingly clear that President Obama’s stimulus plan was devised for a far milder downturn, and this week we received further evidence of the recession’s high human cost.

The U.S. lost another 663,000 jobs in March, according to a report released by the the Labor Department last Friday. Most of us are getting used to seeing big numbers associated with this recession, but those massive layoffs are perhaps the most distressing statistics of all. Jobs matter most to ordinary people right now, as John Nichols notes for The Nation, and the primary measure of success for any economic policy is whether it will get people back to work. Nichol’s argument stands in sharp contrast to what much of the news media is using as its metric of success: the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Speculators on Wall Street have pointed to the Dow’s recent upward trend as evidence that things are getting better. We’ll see if that uptick continues after the next round of quarterly banking losses comes in, but even if they do, Nichols emphasizes, happy speculators are not the same thing as a happy economy.

The national unemployment rate currently stands at 8.5% and, without a dramatic increase in government support, will likely be mired in double digits for years to come. Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it succinctly in an interview at Salon: “This model no longer works. The Americans are completely over-indebted. They can’t increase their consumption, instead they have to save.”

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