National employment figures or, even more important, national unemployment figures are being used as a prime issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. Democrats say the economy is the nation's No. 1 issue, while Republicans note they inherited a nation suffering a serious recession even before the fallout of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism.
Where one stands on the economy usually depends on the individual's political affiliation.
Several matters are clear, however, relative to the unemployment numbers.
New technology has played a major role in reducing the number of workers needed to build or assemble thousands of products. Many thousands of Americans employed in those manufacturing jobs no longer are needed.
Most of this country's largest companies are publicly owned. Because of that, those companies' chief executives have a responsibility to produce good products at a competitive price that will benefit consumers and reward company investors. In many cases, the best way to produce this three-pronged goal is to have a sizable percentage of the manufacturing work done abroad where workers are paid much less than what American workers demand.
Lastly, a recent announcement by MCI officials illustrated that there often is a negative "cost" to nice-sounding federal legislation. MCI said it was cutting its workforce by at least 4,000 due to competition and as a result of the newly enacted national do-not-call registry. Much was said by some about how great it would be to eliminate unsolicited phone calls, but little, if anything, was said about the loss of American jobs that would result.
As much as some would like, it is pretty hard to have your cake and eat it too in the employment game. Various political hopefuls would like the public to believe they have all the answers, but there isn't any solution that will please everyone.
High wages are paid to Americans employed by publicly owned companies that must remain profitable. Foreign manufacturing facilities can employ workers at far lower salaries, and lower production costs allow U.S. consumers to buy products at a lower price without necessarily lowering the quality of the product. Automation has helped increase U.S. production, but, in many cases, it has resulted in layoffs, as has federal legislation concerning workplace rules, health requirements, benefits, wages, etc.
Political candidates would like the public to believe they have all the right answers for the economy, but there is no simple strategy that benefits everyone. Also, it should be remembered it is extremely easy for political challengers to say what the incumbent should have done when there is no way for the public to assess whether the challenger would or would not do a better job.