Anyone who lived through the 1980 presidential election remembers the very basic question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan used that question — and the anticipated answer of most Americans — to devastating effect against incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
President Obama had better hope voters don’t ask themselves that question this year, because new economic data analyzed by former Census Department statisticians at the Sentier Research firm reveals that the answers of most Americans are not going to be favorable. The data shows that, amazingly, median household income fell more during the “recovery” from June 2009 to June 2012 than it did during the preceding recession. What’s more, the drop in median household income happened across the board, in virtually every demographic group.
For example, family households lost 4.7 percent; people who live alone lost 7.5 percent. Households headed by African-Americans lost 11.1 percent. The income in married-couple households dropped 3.6 percent. Households headed by full-time workers lost 5.1 percent. People with “some college, no degree” lost 9.3 percent, people with associate’s degrees lost 8.6 percent, high school grads lost 6.9 percent, and people with bachelor’s degrees or more lost 5.9 percent.
The only group that came our ahead during the period from June 2009 to June 2012 was senior citizens. The incomes of those between the ages of 65 to 74 grew by 6.5 percent, and the incomes of those over 75 increased by 2.8 percent.
The Sentier Research findings help to illustrate just how bad the performance of our economy has been during recent years. There have been lots of losers and few winners — not exactly the record that an incumbent President would want to run on. When almost everyone has taken a big hit to the pocketbook, it’s not easy to convince them that, bad as things are, they would be even worse if you hadn’t been in charge.