Income Rises — or Does It?
Median household income rose 5.2%, but people sure don’t feel like it.
In news that surprised many, the latest Census Bureau report on U.S. incomes showed the largest leap in median household income since 1967, when the government started tracking it. In 2015, median household income rose 5.2%, or almost $2,800, to $56,516. While this still falls short of the 2007, pre-recession level of $57,423 (adjusted for inflation), Barack Obama was quick to claim credit: “This is all a consequence of some of the smart economic policies we’ve been putting in place over the last several years.” Not so fast.
What Obama and Co. aren’t touting is fine print from page five of the Bureau’s report, which says, “The data for 2013 and beyond reflect the implementation of the redesigned income questions.” How convenient. The government redesigns questions and, voila!, incomes rise — just in time for the election homestretch.
New York Post columnist John Crudele unravels some of the mystery. He explains that beginning in 2014, the Census Bureau “began to ‘collect the value of assets that generate income if the respondent is unsure of the income generated.’” And the government began using “‘income ranges’ as a follow-up for ‘don’t know’ or ‘refused’ answers on income-amount questions.” What’s more, the latest report compares 2015 to 2014, but already this year, household incomes have “slackened.” Crudele concludes that as a result of the revised methods, “income levels reported could be noticeably higher, say 5.2 percent higher, without the actual income being 5.2 percent higher.”
What’s more, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk notes, the report measures inflation using the Consumer Price Index, which “is less accurate than other inflation estimates.” Based on anecdotal evidence around the nation, that’s putting it mildly.
In other words, if you start celebrating higher incomes and folks give you blank looks, there might be a reason. Furthermore, the report notes the exception to its good news is for those living outside metropolitan areas. In other words, the places where Trump has the strongest support.
Of course, Obama is trying to make this support unthinkable. While stumping for a bed-ridden Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia earlier this week, Obama feigned shock at working-class Trump supporters, saying, “Really? This is the guy you want to be championing working people? This guy who spent 70 years on this earth showing no concern for working people?” (In the same speech Obama hilariously referred to Clinton as the “steady” and “true” candidate.) But which of the two candidates has run a private business that actually hired people?
In reality, despite convenient Census Bureau numbers that sing “Happy Days are Here Again” — and despite claims that poverty is down, more people have health insurance, and the mythical “gender pay gap” is shrinking — folks just aren’t buying it. Why? They’re not seeing it in their household budgets.
The Washington Post recently rattled off a list of these “progress” indicators only to say, “Despite all of this, every single poll shows that more than six in 10 Americans feel the country is on the wrong track.” In fact, the margin isn’t even close — just 27% think the Ship of State is navigating rightly, while 66% think we’re off course. Perhaps these polls are harder to rig than Census Bureau and ObamaCare numbers.
The Post surveyed several pollsters to learn the reasons for the pessimism (because, you know, pollsters are always right). The answers ranged from general dissatisfaction with government and lack of consumer confidence to distrust in the system and overall frustration with economic, cultural and other societal indicators. It’s worth noting that Obama’s fundamental transformation has extended throughout nearly every aspect of life, so these cultural considerations are as important as the economic ones.
What’s going to be especially interesting for the presidential election is how voters in key swing states answer the right track/wrong track question. Income gains lag behind in some of those states.
Still, Obama is painting his visions of economic fairytales in a desperate attempt to relocate Hilary Clinton to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At that same rally in Philadelphia — which, incidentally, has a 26% poverty rate and the highest “deep poverty” rate (defined as 50% or less of the poverty rate) among the nation’s 10 biggest cities — he pointed to falling poverty, rising incomes, etc., as proof of his success. He even credited himself with lowering gas prices (no, seriously, he repurposed conservative mockery, saying, “Thanks, Obama.”)
Clinton instead insulted Americans who feel left behind. In the same speech where she mocked the “basket of deplorables,” she said, “Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but they are not America. But the other basket … are people who feel that government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures. They are just desperate for change.” That may be, but they’re desperate because of Democrats’ deplorable policies.
Indeed, staged rallies, empty boasting and sweeping insults aside, most Americans simply don’t believe things are as grand as Obama claims. And when it comes down to trusting Census Bureau numbers or looking at their own paychecks (or unemployment checks) to gauge the landscape, Americans will always do the latter.
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