Better off?

I’ve been away from my blog seat for a while, but I am still paying attention. Because we are so close to the national election, everything these days is political or politicized. The first debate is just days away, this one focused on domestic policy. On the myriad of social issues that confront us, the parties could hardly be further apart. I don’t believe that Americans are as far apart as party lines would suggest, but on the social issue front, the choice this November is pretty stark.

Regards the economy, the story is a bit different. While our President is a very powerful person and can do much good or cause much harm in the world, when it comes to directing the global economy, he’s not in charge. Far from it. And when one party doesn’t control both the executive and legislative branches, it gets even more tenuous. So, I don’t personally give a whole of of credit or blame to the president for what has truly been a global economic recession. That said, there’s a great story about the economy in today’s New York Times by James Stewart.

I don’t think many would argue with the statement that Obama’s policies are designed to favor the middle and lower classes while Romney’s are more tilted toward the higher income bands (with the belief that when good things happen for people with money, better things happen for people at the other end of the income scale). So, let’s take a look at the last four years, asking the question that Romney frequently poses: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

Stewart examines indicators such as the unemployment rate, GDP, household income, inflation rates, and, most especially, aggregate household balance sheet. While the case is mixed on a number of these scores, when it comes to the last one, the answer is unambiguous, Total household net worth has grown under this administration from $50.4 trillion to $62.7 trillion and that number will rise above $65 trillion when the numbers come in from the last quarter. And when looks at the most recent consumer confidence levels of people, for families with income over $50,000, confidence levels have increased massively since Obama took office. Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains: “It’s a higher end story. The irony is that the Obama administration has done very well for the top 10% of households and certainly for the top 1%. By contrast, for low-income households, their balance sheets are still under pressure.” This latter group is the one most likely to answer the question “are you better off” with a no, but, of course, they also belong to the 47% of the country Romney tells us he has no interest in. I kind of doubt a whole lot of them will be casting their vote his way. On the other hand, I suspect more than a few in the middle who don’t vote ideology, but instead are more pragmatic, will cast their lot with the sitting President. That’s certainly what the polls suggest today.

Lawrence M. Schall
Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, GA 30319

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