If the Obama administration has been skillful in one area, it has been convincing people that the current economy is the best they could hope for and to lower their expectations accordingly.
"No one could have fully repaired all of the damage he found in just four years," Bill Clinton said at the Democratic convention earlier this year. The message: Don't expect too much. This is the new normal.
Friday's jobless numbers indicate that message is penetrating. People are simply giving up on this economy.
Superficially, the numbers seemed good: The official rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent, according to the Labor Department. The more expansive U-6 number, which unlike the official rate includes the underemployed jobless and discouraged, fell to 14.4 percent from 14.6 percent. Overall, employers reported a net gain of 147,000 jobs.
What is driving the decline in the jobless rate, though, is not the expansion of the economy, it is the shrinkage of the workforce. The number of Americans reporting they had jobs actually fell by 122,000 last month. The only reason the unemployment rate fell is that more than 350,000 Americans left the labor force entirely. If the labor participation rate was the same today as it was when Obama was sworn into office, the official jobless rate would be 10.7 percent, notes the American Enterprise Institute's James Pethokoukis. Those are not signs of a healthy economy.
But not everyone is suffering equally. Dig deeper into the Bureau of Labor Statistics data and you'll see that the number of employed Americans over age 55 actually grew by 177,000.
That's been consistent throughout Obama's administration. Since he took office, the 55-to-69-year-old worker cohort has grown by 4 million, while all other age groups have fallen by a combined 3 million.
For men 20 and over, the labor participation rate has fallen from 75.2 percent when Obama took office to 73.2 percent today. For women 20 and over, it went from 60.4 percent to 58.4 percent today. College graduates can barely snag a job as a barista, so why bother?
The Obama recovery, if you can even call it that, has been one long period of young people simply giving up on finding a job in the first place.
The outlook for the economy expanding isn't getting any brighter either. The Wells Fargo/Gallup small-business survey released Thursday found that small businesses expected to shed on average four jobs over the next year. This was the worst the survey had seen since the depths of the recession in 2008 and '09.
That is the context for Friday's numbers: Not only is our workforce shirking, it is getting grayer too. Younger workers are being frozen out.
Pardon us if we keep the Champagne corked.