We look at a lot of charts and graphs in the Up With Chris Hayes boiler room. A chart is often the best way to wrap our heads around a complicated story. But charts aren't good TV. TV is a visual medium, in the same way speed dating is a visual medium. If you aren't hooked in the first couple of seconds, you move on.
One chart in particular really caught our attention this week, though. It's a comparison of every recession since World War II. It shows how many jobs were lost in each recession, and how long it took the economy to grow those jobs back. This chart gets a lot of attention among people who go in for this sort of thing. In fact, I wrote about an earlier example, in 2009. But this month's version is worth a look.
Here it is:
Once you get past the idea that the graph looks like somebody dropped spaghetti, you can tease out a couple of important points:
1) President Obama didn't "get us into this mess," despite what you hear... over and over... ad nauseam... from Republican politicians. "This mess" started in 2007, back when Hillary Clinton was the sure thing Democratic candidate to replace the actual president at the time, George W. Bush.
2) It's a BIG mess. We lost many more jobs than in any post-war recession; and the recession is lasting far longer than any of the others. In the most severe previous recession, 1948, it took less than two years to climb back to peak employment. In this recession, we're four years in and still skipping along the bottom like a flat stone across a pond.
Now, here's the scary part. The reason we're flat-lining is that our political system is killing any attempt to fix the economy.
The first stimulus started to hit about eighteen months in on this chart. It staunched the flow of lost jobs, and even helped to turn the chart back upwards. But it wasn't enough.
The Republican majority in the House and the obstructionist minority in the Senate have stopped any attempt to put government muscle behind economic recovery. This chart shows the impact: twice as many people are out of work than in December of 2007, when this recession started.
Not only that-- Republican politics in the next three weeks could turn that graph line plunging back down. "Independent economists," as President Obama likes to say, have warned that if unemployment insurance is not extended past the end of this month... and if payroll tax cuts aren't extended... economic growth would fall off by 1.5 to 2%, and we could lose another 700,000+ jobs. GDP growth now isn't much more than 2% a quarter. If growth drops 2% we're at... zero. Dead in the water.
So no, the graph isn't all that pretty. But the really ugly part is the story it tells.
Ken Olshansky is a producer at Up w/ Chris Hayes.