It was this time last month when the president committed his infamous “private sector is doing fine” faux pas. To Barack Obama’s defenders, it was a classic Washington gaffe, in which a public figure utters a true but nonetheless impolitic remark. And, on some level, there was a fair amount of truth to it. Obama’s point was that the real drag on the economy isn’t the private sector, which has steadily added jobs over the last few years, but the public sector, which has continued to shed them at an alarming pace. As long as governors and mayors keep laying off teachers, firefighters, and cops, the president was saying, it’s hard to see how the recovery can get its legs. And, unfortunately, Republicans have consistently blocked his proposals for reversing this trend.
As I say, there’s more than a bit of truth to that. Still, if there’s one thing that really jumps out at you in today’s jobs report, it’s that the private sector isn’t doing so hot after all. In June, private employers added a mere 84,000 jobs. They added 105,000 jobs the month before, and 85,000 the month before that. To put this in some context, the economy needs to add about 100,000 to 150,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth; the private sector has averaged 91,000 over the past three months. Which is to say, even if government job losses weren’t weighing us down, we’d still be struggling because the private sector has been pretty damn anemic.