DENNIS SEID: A decade later, we still have work to do

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Ten years ago, the U.S. economy was in a recession. What officially began in March 2001 officially ended that November, and some experts say the Sept. 11 attacks prolonged the economic downturn.
Certainly, the markets were rattled in the immediate aftermath of that terrible day, and the airlines have yet to recover. But the economy didn’t go into the tank.
Amazingly, in the decade between then and now, the country saw fantastic growth in the automobile industry and the housing market. Wall Street reached new heights.
Auto sales reached 17 million in annual U.S. sales by 2007. A housing boom also occurred, and the rise in home values allowed people to use the equity in their homes as ATMs.
It seemed Osama bin Laden’s plans to bring down the U.S. economy had failed miserably.
But after a brief, glorious rise, the housing bubble burst, spurred on by the subprime mortgage debacle. The global financial market plummeted in the aftermath. Food and fuel prices skyrocketed, too. That set off the longest, deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
It wasn’t bin Laden or al-Qaida that brought down the economy, however. It was us.
Our greed helped get us where we are today. Using our homes like ATMs turned out to be a terrible idea. A failure of leadership in Washington also contributed to our downward spiral. Blame Bush all you want, but it was the Democrats leading the charge to get more Americans to buy homes, even if they couldn’t afford it.
How did that work out?
The economy veered into a ditch and nearly off a cliff. Two million people have lost their jobs since January 2009. Nearly $2 trillion in stimulus funds – pushed by Presidents Bush and Obama – may have staved off a deeper recession, but unemployment is still too high.
Here’s a startling statistic. In September 2001, unemployment in the U.S. was at 4.8 percent. It’s nearly twice that now.
Yet somehow, despite the hits it has taken the past four years, our economy remains resilient. It seems no matter how many times it gets knocked down, it staggers back. It might be barely off the canvas at times, it may be on the ropes at times, but every now and then it throws an uppercut or hook to show it’s still got gas in the tank.
Still, few people and businesses can say our economy is in great shape.
Too many people remain unemployed. That’s a huge drag for an economy looking for traction. With less discretionary income afloat, fewer goods are being bought. That leads to fewer goods being made and fewer people and/or fewer hours on the job. A vicious cycle indeed. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so when that valve closes, we find ourselves where we are now.
So the key then is to figure out how to put more people to work.
Even before Obama rolled out a jobs plan Thursday, Republicans were assailing it.
Ten years ago, we were all Americans. There was no left or right.
Maybe we can remember that today of all days and work together to help our fellow citizens for the good of the country.
Contact Daily Journal Business Editor Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.