Recently I wrote about how President Obama is apparently not content to be the traditional “lame duck” President. He certainly got off to a flying start of his last two years in office by using his executive powers to provide protection from deportation to over five million illegal immigrates who have families living legally in the United States. He also broke down obsolete cold war barriers when he reached agreement with the Cuban government to normalize diplomatic relations and reduce restrictions on the travel of Americans to Cuba.
Looking forward I think we will continue to see President Obama use the formable powers of the Presidency to act alone were he can to try to resolve the nation’ problems if the Republicans in Congress continue to refuse to do their part. However, this is also a good time to look at the progress that has been made during the President’s first six years in office. One would normally expect that with the Congressional Republicans trying to undermine the President’s efforts at every turn, his achievements would be few and unimpressive, but that is far from the case.
A deep recession, not a devastating depression: When President Obama took office the economy was already in a downward spiral which ultimately resulted in the worst recession in last eighty years. But it could have been far worse. While they weren’t popular at the time, most economist now agree the measures the President and the Democratic Congress took during his first few months in office prevented the country and the world from sliding into an economic depression as bad or worse than the great depression of the 1930’s. Fifty years from now, historians may consider this the President’s greatest accomplishment.
Economic recovery: As expected, the recovery from such a bad recession has been slow. However, since the it bottomed out in May of 2008 with a 10% unemployment rate, the US economy has been slowly recovering and that recovery has accelerated during the last year. For the last 57 months in a row the county has experienced positive job growth and over that time period 10.9 million jobs have been added. Though November the number of jobs grew by 2.65 million in 2014, an average of 240,000 jobs a month. In addition the jobless rate has dropped to 5.8% which is nearing the historical average and it shows every sign of dropping further. We are nearing the country’s normal unemployment range of 4.5% to 5.5%.
In addition, during the year just completed, we have seen that the number of higher paying jobs, such as those in manufacturing, have significantly increased. In 2014, on a year over year basis, industrial production increased 5.2%. This compares very favorably to the historical average yearly increase of 3.3%. Capacity utilization in our industries has reached the historical average of the last 40 years of 80.1%. We are now at the capacity utilization percentage where traditionally pressure begins to be exerted on companies to increase wages in order to be able hire and keep good employees. Consequently employees are finally starting to feel the positive effects of the economic recovery in their pocketbooks.
In addition, future salary increases are unlikely to be eaten away by inflation. The consumer price index (CPI) increased in 2014 by only 1.3%. This is historically a very low inflation rate so inflation remains well under control. In addition, in December oil prices started a downward spiral which appears to be continuing. While the stock market initially didn’t seem to like this development, in the long run lower oil prices should make it cheaper to provide goods and services in this country and that has to be good for most businesses. More importantly the average American is going to be able to keep more of the money he/she earns, so in my mind this is a good thing regardless how the stock market ultimately reacts. If you ask me it is about time this economy starts benefiting the ordinary Joes instead of just the fat cats who have millions to invest.
The Affordable Care Act: Despite the dire predictions of Republican politicians, President Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, is doing just fine. Thus far 9.7 million Americans have signed up for coverage. This year tax penalties for being uninsured will start to kick in, so we can expect that number to climb. As a result of “ObamaCare” there has been a dramatic drop in the number of uninsured Americans. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 14.4 percent in 2013 to 11.3 percent in 2014. The last time so many people gained coverage in a single year was when the Medicare and Medicaid programs began enrolling folks in 1966.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act has begun to achieve one of its important objectives. According the major accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, health care cost increases slowed to 6.5 percent in 2014, a full point less than the 7.5 percent inflation rate in 2013. The firm also estimates in the future those increases “should remain at some of the lowest levels since the government began measuring national health expenditures in 1960.” In addition, in its most recent estimates the non partisan Congressional Budget Office stated that the Affordable Care Act will reduce the country’s deficit by $100 billion during its first decade of existence.
Of course, in order to mollify their far right base, the Republican controlled congress will attempt to repeal the ACA over the next two years, but they will never have the votes to overcome the President’s veto. The best that they can hope for is to join Democrats in a bipartisan effort to actually improve the program. Regardless of how the politics play out, by the next Presidential election the program will be so entrenched in the fabric of American life that it will be almost impossible to repeal.
More to come: When I was much younger I used love to thumb though my set of World Book Encyclopedias, stopping to read entries that interested me. I remember that part each entry for the American Presidents there was drawing depicting the primary accomplishments of each American Chief Executive down through history. I expect that in the future the accomplishments listed above will be considered among Barrack Obama’s most significant contributions, but there are others which should not go unmentioned. I will cover these in my next installment.