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Slow, steady improvement

By Walt Braun

When economic news is bad, the usual scenario involves both parties blaming each other for policies enacted or rejected that contribute to the problems. When the economic news is good, the parties are more likely to argue over who deserves credit.

We’re not going to attribute credit for the surprisingly good economic news Friday. The headline, of course, was that 243,000 more Americans found jobs in January, dropping the unemployment rate from 8.5 to 8.3 percent. It is perhaps a sign of how bad things have been that an 8.3 percent unemployment rate is cause for joy.

Presidents, who get blamed when the economy goes south — regardless of party affiliation or whether they had anything to do with it — similarly get much of the credit for upticks. So this latest bit of news is probably good for President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects and complicates the challenge for Republican challengers.

For just a moment, however, we wish Republican and Democratic officeholders would pause from their partisan bickering and relish the reality that things in this country really do seem to be getting better. Those new jobs, after all, are going to people of every political persuasion in all lines of work and in all corners of the country.

The unemployment rate hasn’t been as low as 8.3 percent since the second month President Obama was in office.

But there’s other good news. The jobless rate dropped while governments were cutting jobs — 14,000 of them in January. The four-week average of unemployment applications was the lowest since June 2008. Also, factory orders are up and manufacturing increased at the fastest pace since last summer.

While acknowledging the steady progress, we would be remiss in not also recognizing that we are still a long way from full employment and prosperity. Fact is, almost 13 million Americans still can’t find a job; even worse, the 24 million of Americans who are “underemployed” amount to an underemployment rate of 15.1 percent. On top of all that, our national debt is mountainous and growing.

Without crediting either party for the progress or blaming either one for the fact that so much remains to be done, we’re convinced that improvement will come more quickly if our political leaders would seek areas of collaboration rather than points of conflict.

Sharing the credit is much more rewarding than sorting out the blame.

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