An economic system built partly on a false sense of security came crashing down. The housing bubble’s all-hours party ended. In the morning that followed the panic of September 2008, consumers and businesses were shocked by what they saw in the mirror.
As the Bush administration came to a close, jobs had evaporated. Businesses cratered. Consumers shut up their pocketbooks.
Four years later, much of the nation appears to still be in shock.
The latest confirmation came at the end of last week when the federal government announced that the U.S. economy added a paltry 69,000 jobs in May. It was one more sign that recovery will be slow and unsteady. The nation has made strides since September 2008. Unemployment is slowly dropping. Retail sales are picking up. Runaway inflation never materialized.
Yet, a better economy is not the same as robust one.
Confidence is a main culprit. It seems Americans are still waiting to exhale. Are things improving? Or, is this merely the time before another shoe drops?
Businesses are reluctant to take on new employees. Many consumers are holding off on making big purchases. The federal government is paralyzed by partisan warfare. Local and state governments remain unsure of their revenue, either from the feds or local tax collections. As a result, essential services like schools and public safety are seeing their budgets shrink. That, in turn, sends a negative message to businesses and consumers. This vicious cycle’s message: Be on guard. The worse may be yet to come.
Overcoming this crisis of confidence will require sustained signs of recovery, of course. Also, Americans will need a chief executive to successfully act as a cheerleader for the economy. That means the 2012 presidential election could go a long way toward restoring confidence so that spenders will spend, employers will hire and governments will fully serve constituents.
Barack Obama, the incumbent, did an amazing job inspiring his supporters four years ago. He’s proven less successful in the White House at wowing his political rivals.
Mitt Romney, the all but certain Republican nominee, has businessman credibility, yet thus far hasn’t displayed the rhetorical firepower to inspire the masses.
This intangible ability to inspire Americans to see a brighter economic future will have a large say in who wins the presidency later this year.