A gloomy birthday present

Members of Americans 4 Justice, an activist group supportive of US President Barack Obama, sing "Happy Birthday" in front of the New York Stock Exchange on 3 August 2011 Image copyright Getty Images

Happy Birthday, Mr President. But how many will be singing, like Marilyn, "Thanks, Mr President, for all the things you've done, the battles that you've won"?

Barack Obama's 50th birthday may be muted. It's not a week for celebrations.

There is a new mood of gloom hanging over the USA, with a bunch of bad economic figures suggesting that the country could slip back into recession.

The president has said, yet again, that his relentless focus will be on jobs, and that his cabinet will redouble its efforts in asking "how are we going to put people back to work; how are we going to raise their wages; increase their security; how are we going to make sure that they recover fully, as families and as communities, from the worst recession we've had since the Great Depression?"

Politically, as well as economically, Mr Obama does look as if he is still pondering the question, rather than providing the answers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Madame Tussauds New York marks President Obama's 50th birthday

His opponents will suggest not only that he isn't coping with the problem, but that he's made it worse.

Next year's election could take place against a very grim background.

While we were all consumed with the debt shenanigans, statistics were rolling out suggesting a rather more substantial crisis.

The pace of growth in the all-important service sector was down last month to its lowest level since February 2010.

Manufacturing hardly grew at all in July.

There were more jobs cut in July than for the previous 16 months.

New employment figures out on Friday are not expected to be good either.

Some economists forecast that a double-dip recession will begin some time next year, others that it has already started.

The less dramatic may argue that the economy will continue to bump along the bottom, not technically in recession, but not really meriting the word "recovery".

That's not particularly good news either.

Americans tend to be relentlessly optimistic, but over the past year, I'd say that for every person I meet who says things are looking up, there are another two who don't see much sign of that.

It would be understandable if the president felt more than just another year older.