The common ingredient in Chicago and Colorado isn’t simply populist anger. It’s a particular anxiety that people have about their paychecks. Whether the culprit seems to be Wal-Mart’s drive for profits or an illegal immigrant who takes someone’s else job, many families feel as if they’re falling behind, and they’re right. While it can be dangerous to make too much of two isolated incidents, these seem like a signal that the politics of the American economy may be coming to a turning point.Ahhh! It's finally back to the economy, stupid! Will people finally get angry enough to stop the plutocracy? Maybe. And that's a more optimistic attitude than I've had in quite some time.
Going back to the 1970’s, the single best predictor of the nation’s mood has been its collective paycheck. For all the other things that affect public opinion, like a war or a scandal, the power of wages jumps out at you when you look at broad polling data over the last 30 years.
When pay has been steadily increasing, as it was in the 1980’s and late 90’s, optimism has surged. But when pay stagnates, pessimism about the country’s future inevitably takes over. As Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says, “When their jobs aren’t going anywhere, many people lose their optimism about the country making economic progress.”
Moreover, the complex reality of a growing economy that isn’t benefiting most workers will tempt both parties in some dangerous ways. Many Democrats have taken to exaggerating the economy’s problems in recent years — overlooking, say, the resurgence of cities, the decline in interest rates and the benefits of technology — and have ended up out of step with the voting public. “This idea that people are worse off than 20 or 30 years ago is so ludicrous,” said Jason Furman, an economist who advised John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “And I’ve come to appreciate how damaging it is.”
President Bush and his advisers, meanwhile, continue to talk about the rise in average income, which is happening almost entirely because of gains at the very top. Among their many attempts to talk up the economy, my favorite was a chart released by the Treasury Department showing that median household income had fallen since 2000 — but not by as much as it had in the early 90’s. That’s probably not going to make people feel a lot better. So don’t be surprised if the local outbursts of anxiety in Chicago and Colorado soon go national.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Anxiety Rises as Paychecks Trail Inflation - New York Times:
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