Who's better off than four years ago?

Geraldine Sealey
February 5, 2004 3:24AM (UTC)

Voters told exit pollsters on Tuesday that the national economy seems crappy at best. Eight in 10 called it not so good or poor. When asked that perennial election year question -- are you better off now than you were four years ago? -- about half said no, their families' financial situations had actually worsened. Indeed, the economy was the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters in states from South Carolina to Arizona on Tuesday -- a trend similar to what pollsters heard in Iowa and New Hampshire, too. Apparently these voters haven't talked to President Bush.

In a "conversation" about the economy at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, N.H., last week, Bush laid out his six-point economic plan and told the audience he, for one, is upbeat about the economy. "And I've got reason to be," he said. "Not only the numbers say things are looking pretty good, the American people are telling me they feel pretty good. The American people feel confident about the future."


This half-full, half-empty debate on the economy will surely play out in the general election. Already, Democratic contenders have their retorts ready, and they're aimed squarely at Bush and his economic plan. There's John Edwards' Two Americas -- "one for the privileged who get everything they want, and one for everyone else who struggle for the things they need." There's John Kerry's contention that Bush wants to campaign on national security because if he ran on his economic record, he'd lose. And Wes Clark says that under Bush we have "tax cuts for the rich and tough luck for everyone else."

A new analysis of government data from the Economic Policy Institute puts some numbers to the anxious sentiment so many voters expressed about the economy on Tuesday. They're not crazy, after all. The recession may be over and the recovery underway, but we have not just a jobless recovery - it's, as EPI puts it, "the single worst recovery on record in terms of generating the real (inflation-adjusted) growth in wages and salary income that is the economic lifeblood of most American families."

"In the 25 months since the recession ended, total wage and salary income is up only 0.4 percent ... This is the slowest wage and salary growth of any recession since 1959, the first year in which monthly data on total wage and salary income is consistently available."


If President Bush wont acknowledge the concerning economic realities faced by so many working Americans, he may end up paying for it in November.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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