Framing the debate like that helped Reagan twice - in 1980 when he
beat incumbent Jimmy Carter, and then again in 1984 when he won
re-election during an economic upswing.
But a similar message has failed to resonate for Obama primarily for
one reason: while he stresses the economy has improved in almost
every aspect on his watch, average family incomes have slipped.
Between 2009 when Obama took office and 2013, the latest for which
numbers are available, median annual household incomes fell by more
than $2,100 in inflation-adjusted terms, Census Bureau data showed
"It's hard to make the case for 'Morning again in America' the way
that Ronald Reagan was able to do in 1984," said John Ullyot, a
former Senate Republican aide, now with a strategy firm High Lantern
"People just don’t feel connected to the recovery."
White House economists have pointed out that the census figures do
not reflect job growth and the rise in average hourly earnings seen
this year, but any improvements have yet to register with the
Opinion polls make disturbing reading for the Democratic Party,
which will have a tough time defending its slim Senate majority in
the Nov. 4 election.
Roughly two-thirds of the population thinks the economy is heading
in the wrong direction, survey data from polling firm Ipsos has
consistently shown over the last two years.
About four in 10 Americans also strongly disapprove of Obama's
handling of the economy and less than one in 10 feel he is doing a
really good job. The president's own overall approval rating is
stuck at around 40 percent.
Frustrated by the public's failure to give this administration
credit for leading the world's biggest economy out of its worst
recession since the 1930s, Obama and his team have gone to lengths
to change that.
While crisscrossing the country in the past months to drum up
support for the Democrats, Obama on at least nine occasions stressed
how almost all economic gauges have improved during his presidency.
RECOVERY AND WAGE CHALLENGE
For one, the recovery from the 2007-2009 recession is the slowest
since World War Two, but it has already extended beyond the post-war
average of 58 months and there seems to be more gas in the tank. The
International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. economy to grow 3
percent next year and in 2016.
On Obama's watch, 5.1 million jobs have also been added to payrolls,
the S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index is up about 17
percent and the S&P 500 stock index has more than doubled while
hitting all-time records.
[to top of second column]
“By almost every economic measure, we are better off today than we
were when I took office,” Obama told a Democratic women’s forum in
Washington on Friday, repeating the familiar refrain.
He frequently chastises the media for underplaying news that U.S.
factories, oil fields and the stock market are booming and
businesses are hiring.
"You wouldn't always know it from watching the news," he told a
Labor Day picnic in Milwaukee on Sept 1.
Two days later, the White House arranged a special briefing for
reporters with the president’s top economic advisers, who walked
through 17 charts showing the economy on the rise.
Yet near the end, when asked what indicators had failed to bounce
back, Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
acknowledged that stagnant incomes remained a worry.
"Wages remain one of the most fundamental economic challenges we
have," Furman said.
Many economists point out that stagnant wages are a problem that
long predates this presidency. In fact, many believe that by the
time incomes peaked in 1999 the United States was already slipping
into a less dynamic era, grappling like other developed economies
with aging and other structural impediments.
"There are big structural forces at work here. That's not
necessarily a policy error in the last few years," said Paul
Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.
Even as Obama touts his economic accomplishments, he acknowledges
more needs to be done to boost worker earnings.
"That's not the simplest of messages," said Jared Bernstein, who was
chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden between 2009 and 2011.
"It's saying, 'We're moving in the right direction, but we're not
The problem is that not all economic indicators were created equal
and not much else matters for the public if the money remains tight.
"I can't imagine people feel particularly elated when they're told
GDP was up 4 percent last quarter, but median income was flat last
year," Bernstein said.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Roberta Rampton; Editing by David
Chance and Tomasz Janowski)
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