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Is Voter Discord Over Jobs and Wages? If Not, What?

In a recent WSJ/NBC poll, 62% of Americans said the nation on the wrong track. That's higher than at any point in 2012.

The Wall Street Journal takes the poll and concludes Voter Discord Isn't Over Wages.

Improving Indicators, Wall Street Journal

Wage and income gains in the U.S. have improved significantly since the last presidential election, yet voters remain deeply unhappy. The divide underscores the scars and anxieties that remain top of mind even as the severe 2007-09 recession fades into the background.

It isn't just measures of American households' net worth and the stock market reaching new highs this year. Nor is it just the latest monthly jobs report showing wage growth picking up last month.

Median wage growth has climbed from less than 2% in 2012, to 3.6% over the past year. That means half of workers received a raise above that level and half below. Thanks largely to falling gas prices in recent years, those pay increases are well above inflation.

Many households recognize they're doing better, but think everyone else is doing badly. A big disconnect has emerged, for example, in the University of Michigan's survey on household sentiment, when people are asked about themselves personally versus the overall economy.

In 2008 and 2009, when the recession was at its worst, more than 80% of Americans told Gallup that economic problems were the biggest issue facing the country.

Today, that's down to about 27%. Rising concerns include race relations, dissatisfaction with government, crime and violence. Thirteen percent of voters cited national security, terrorism or Islamic State as a top concern; only 3% cited wages or lack of money.

Perhaps the best explanation of all this: For many voters there are very serious and grim issues in this election, but it isn't really about pocketbooks anymore.

Really?

No! There are more visible problems thus more problems for people to choose. Race relations have gone downhill. There have been more shootings.

Social discord is about something, most likely jobs and wages, not racial incidents. Give voters enough choices and many will pick the hot topic of the day.

Proof comes from the popularity of Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK. If voters really believed the economy was improving, Trump would not have won the nomination with his message "Make America Great Again".

The Journal says "Thanks largely to falling gas prices in recent years, pay increases are well above inflation."

Really? What about rent? Obamacare? Education? Student debt? Is the CPI remotely accurate? What about benefits? And how many people have to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet?

Are voters so angry about so many things they do not even know what to blame?

This paragraph from the article rings true:

Despite the surge over the last year, "household income is still below where it was in January 2000," after adjusting for inflation, said Gordon Green, a former Census Bureau official and partner at Sentier Research. Households may be unenthusiastic about a good year because they've seemed so few and far between. For many households, "it's been very long, very painful."

Outside of unpopular wars, social discontent is not this widespread except when people feel they are economically being left behind.

People may cite race relations, police attacks, security, etc., but those concerns have their roots in something else: a feeling of slipping economically behind over a decade or longer, as the rich get richer and richer.

 

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