Several recent economic reports indicate a national economy that is not doing all that well.
Four years after the recession officially ended, growth remains sluggish and, despite a falling unemployment rate, our economy is still not creating enough jobs for those who want to work.
At the end of January, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that our economy grew by 3.2 percent at the end of 2013, a figure likely to be revised downward. Annual growth has been only 2 percent over the past three years.
To put this into some perspective, the United States economy has to grow 3 percent each year just to keep unemployment from rising.
From the end of World War II to the end of the 20th century, the U.S. economy grew 4 percent annually during normal times. During recessions economic growth would stop, but a large growth spurt would follow to make up for this.
Twenty years ago, 3.2 percent growth would have been considered subpar at this point in the business cycle. Two percent growth would have been deemed unacceptable, resulting in Congress and the president promoting policies to get the economy moving again.
The jobs report released in February was likewise disappointing. Again, the headlines were somewhat positive. The unemployment rate fell one-tenth of one percent in January; it is down 1.2 percentage points since January 2013 and is at its lowest level since October 2008.
The bad news concerns why unemployment has declined.
Last year unemployment fell in large part because people gave up looking for work. These people want jobs, but they don't get counted as unemployed because they have not been looking for work.
In January we encountered something new. There was a decline of 117,000 new labor market entrants and re-entrants. This rarely happens since our population is growing continuously.
Because people entering the labor force rarely find work immediately, these missing workers led to the small drop in the unemployment rate. This is not likely to continue.
The two causes of our mediocre economic performance are also clear from the recent data.
Consumers make up a bit more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy. To achieve 3 percent growth, consumer spending should generate 2 percent growth. But household spending boosted economic growth by 1.5 percent rather than 2 percent.
It is easy to understand why consumers don't want to spend. Many fear losing their jobs and not being able to find new ones any time soon. Families lost a great deal when home prices collapsed and are still struggling to put their finances in order.
The other reason for our slow growth is the government. Lower government expenditures reduced economic growth nearly half a percentage point in 2013 and nearly a whole percentage point during the last quarter of 2013.
More important than pointing blame is increasing growth and job creation. Since we can't expect consumers to drive economic growth, the government must spend more, thereby creating jobs.
It is not as if we are lacking in things for the government to do. U.S. infrastructure is crumbling. Child care, worker training and education are among the most glaring problems we face as a nation.
These are all investments that will yield more future tax revenues than current expenditures. Spending on these items benefits everyone. The role of government is to make such investments.
It is time for the federal government to stop focusing on deficits and worry more about contributing to our nation's economic health and future prosperity. Otherwise, we will be plagued with mediocre economic growth and insufficient jobs for years to come.
Steven Pressman is a professor of economics and finance at Monmouth University and author of "50 Major Economists."