The latest news from the Labor Department is just one more sign that President-elect Barack Obama will be inheriting a severely distressed economy.

Recent figures show the U.S. unemployment rate has hit a 14-year high, climbing to 6.5 percent following the loss of another 240,000 jobs in October. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing employment dropped by 90,000 in October, including a loss of 10,000 jobs in the furniture and related products sector, and 7,000 jobs in the wood products sector.

To top it off, the average weekly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees rose just 2.9 percent — well below the current inflation rate.

All this is cutting into consumer spending, which includes purchases of furniture and other wood products. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal consumption expenditures decreased 3 percent, by $33.6 billion, in September, which is the latest available figure.

Many economists say conditions will worsen before we see signs of improvement. Although the stimulus bill has helped, it is not the long-term solution to these economic woes.

You, our readers, recognize that. September’s survey of the WOOD 100 executives listed the economy as the top concern for these companies, followed by price cutting and employee recruitment/retention.

In just a few months, President-elect Obama will take over leadership of the United States. What will this new administration mean to the American woodworking industry?

Dear Mr. President...

Prior to the election, we tried unsuccessfully to question President-elect Obama on issues affecting the woodworking industry, namely:

1. What strategies will he put in place to drive the demand for housing and thus fuel an economic bounceback?

2. What specifically are his administration’s plans to tighten the regulation of imported goods? Also, what policies, if any, are planned which will increase consumer safety regulations for goods manufactured both outside, and within, the United States?

3. What steps should the government take to encourage the growing green movement, among companies involved in both home and commercial building, including educational and health facilities? Also, will there be a push to increase any additional environmental regulations for wood products manufacturers and suppliers?

4. What steps will be taken to help U.S. manufacturers, especially those in the furniture and wood products industries, remain competitive in a global economy?

5. Why has the dollar’s value taken such a hit recently, and will this lower exchange rate pose any major problems for U.S. companies? If so, what plans are there to address this issue?

Some of these, as well as other issues, have been addressed, albeit in general terms, in published Obama-Biden statements. For example, regarding illegal immigrants and the workplace (see last month’s editorial on the E-Verify system, posted on an official campaign site states: “Obama and Biden will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.”

On the issue of foreign policy, specific to China, the site states: “Barack Obama will work to engage China on shared political, economic, environmental and security objectives. He will stand up for American workers, and press China to not give its workers unfair trade advantages.”

And to jump-start the economy and improve foreign trade, Obama and Biden say they will fight for a trade policy that opens up foreign markets to support American jobs and put pressure on the World Trade Organization “to enforce trade agreements and stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports.” They say they will also end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

What other issues are important to you? If you could have a one-on-one interview with President-elect Obama, what would you ask?

Drop me a line and let me know.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.