Thursday, September 15, 2016

We Will Not Accept Statistics that Tout Success

For economists who have been keeping track, 70% of Americans have witnessed a year-to-year diminution in the real buying power of their wages and salaries for over two consecutive decades. But we’ve just received word from the Census Bureau that median household income, even after being adjusted for inflation, rose 5.2% in 2015. Woo hoo! A huge change. The chain is broken! Time to celebrate. Break out the confetti and the fireworks! What, no one is celebrating?! OK, add this: we have 3.5 million people who are no longer living in poverty! Wow! Confetti time? NO?! 2015 added 4 million formerly uninsured individuals into health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.9%! Fireworks? The stock market is hitting new records. NO, AGAIN?! Investments are rising, oil prices are still low. NOTHING?! Huh?
In fact, poll after poll tells us that a majority of Americans still believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. A September poll by the Washington Post tells us that only 27% of adults believe that the United States is headed in the right direction. What, we don’t believe the numbers? What’s going on? It’s pretty clear that Donald Trump’s entire campaign is directed at moving Americans somewhere else. Why? Things are better now. Or is it just that the truth behind the “Make America Great Again” is simply a return of political power to white straight Anglo-Saxon Protestants? Is that all that this negativity is about? There has to be more. Populism has infected all segments of the American political spectrum.
The Post’s James Hohmann (Daily 202, September 14th) takes a look:
Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, a pollster by training and background: “We noticed a number of years ago that the responses to the wrong track question are not purely economic,” she emailed at 12:45 a.m. after a long day on the trail. “In fact, for many Americans, they are not connected to politics or policy at all. We who work in the polling/media/politics axis mistakenly assume they are. While one's attitudes toward the state of the nation are related to one's economic condition, other cultural, attitudinal and situational factors are also in play. Frustration and pessimism seem to have reached a fever pitch for many folks, too.”
Scott Clement, director of The Post’s polling unit, noted that the average American is making less today than he or she was 15 years ago. Real median household income was $56,500 in 2015, the Census bureau reported, up from $53,700 in 2014. But that’s below the peak median income registered in 1999 — $57,909. “While these reports are ‘good,’ some represent a return to previous economic levels before the recession, not outright improvement,” he said. “A Quinnipiac poll in May asked voters to rate the economy – 2 percent called it ‘excellent,’ 30 percent ‘good,’ 40 percent ‘not so good’ and 27 percent ‘poor.’ That’s better than the single digits seen in the depths of the recession, but it’s still a net negative.”
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, noted that only one-third of likely voters in his most recent national poll said the U.S. is in economic recovery. The rest said we are in a period of stagnation, recession, or depression. “It’s like a person who goes to the doctor, and all the tests come back kosher. But the patient still feels sick,” Paleologos said by phone last night. “With the body politic, you have the same kind of thing right now. Science shows a healthy body, but it’s not showing up in the polls.”
Democratic pollster Margie Omero, who co-hosts the “The Pollsters” podcast: “Gallup continues to show voters naming ‘dissatisfaction with government’ about as big of a problem as ‘the economy in general.’ And barely half consider themselves ‘extremely proud’ to be American--a new low. There's this sense that our country is adrift, our politics are beyond repair, and even our personal relationships likely ruined by partisan divisions. For many Americans, this all makes the economic gains we've had over the last eight years feel fragile. Ironically, this worry about our new toxic partisan climate is one of the few things on which Democrats and Republicans can agree.”
We read about ISIS and terrorist attacks. Brexit. Russian defiance. North Korean nukes. Chinese economic power. Migrants. Global instability. Here in the U.S.? Minorities are now a growing majority of this country. Inner city explosions. Pockets of America – like coal country and specifically Appalachia or generally semi-skilled older blue collar workers – have still not felt any of the “recovery.” Congress people are now being elected not to compromise, to shut government down if necessary. Videos are showing blue on black killings that appear to be unjustified. Police authority is undermined in the eyes of many. Minorities, particularly people of color, simply have to accept their status as underclass in accordance with tradition, feel too many, but police cannot be undermined. If there’s excessive unemployment in the inner city, they deserve it. Huh?
Gridlock? The only way to send a message to Washington that government is just too damned big. Hillary Clinton and Obama? Despite the good economic news, they are just part of everything that is wrong. Washington incumbents! Lines are drawn. People just do not believe in our future. There’s nagging truth to these feelings, and I suspect we all feel a big (downward) change is in the air. Global warming? Deny it? But then watch your car get washed away in a flood. Uneasiness. Yup… We don’t believe the good news, and we feel bad… we need a change… worth trying anything. I want life the way it was when I was growing up!!!!! Wah! Wah!
The notion of malaise is sweeping Europe. Right wing political movements, seeking to find scapegoats to blame, are rising everywhere. “Us” and “we” have become “me, me, me and screw ‘them’.” Even with improving economic news, Americans are still splitting apart, wider every single day. What happens if this trend doesn’t stop? Do we do our own little “Brexit” with parts of the United States pulling away from the rest? Is that a civil war? Voluntary? Accelerated by natural disasters we cannot afford to fix?
If we cannot learn to compromise, if we insist on electing representatives who promise not to compromise, if we believe that we really can turn back the clock to an earlier era and ignore what time has changed forever, exactly what can happen? No wonder we feel so darned pessimistic.
I’m Peter Dekom, and it really does come down to Americans getting along even with Americans with a different point of view… or actually losing the United States of America entirely.

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