June 10, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The economy hasn’t been this good in half a century. How do you explain that fact to people who believe it’s terrible?

Readers tell me what they’d say.

Courtesy of the Washington Post.
Courtesy of the Washington Post.

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One of the happy consequences of publishing a daily newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good is it tends to attract like-minded people who are equal parts liberal, informed and shrewd. When I ask open-ended questions on Twitter, I typically get serious, practical and often illuminating responses.

My most recent question (or “public thread”) was prompted by the latest jobs report. The US economy added 272,000 jobs in May, “reflecting a booming labor market that continues to fuel the economy with workers benefiting from wages that are outpacing inflation,” the Post said Friday. “Job creation accelerated from the previous month, rising above the average monthly level of growth so far this year, which was already strong, after a period of cooling for part of 2023.” 

“The American middle class is seeing their economic standing improved. The strong wages and improving living standards are the main takeaway from this very strong jobs report,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for the accounting firm RSM US, told the Post Friday.

That’s the good news. 

The bad news is a lot of people don’t know it, or they don’t feel it, or they believe some bullshit about the economy. It’s hard to say. The cumulative effort, however, is a majority that appears to believe we’re in a recession, according to one poll, when the opposite is true. No one has seen a better economy in 50 years. Wages are outpacing inflation. I couldn’t have written that sentence even in the boom-boom nineties.

This disconnect is bad for the incumbent. Don’t sugarcoat it. Joe Biden’s reelection campaign isn’t. “Inside Biden’s orbit,” according to Politico this morning, “the fear is that there’s little new the administration can do to change the perceptions of a stubborn electorate that’s living through an economic upswing — yet simply refusing to believe it.”

I think the president’s people will figure this out. Perhaps, they will do as Stephen Robinson recommended recently, which was to concede the plain fact that lots of people are not feeling the gaga economy, and blame Donald Trump and the Republicans for those no-good vibes.

Meanwhile, what can you do to correct this apparent misperception? That’s what I asked readers and subscribers on Twitter on Saturday afternoon. “What would you say to someone who believes the economy is terrible? How would you persuade them to vote for Biden?” I think you’ll agree the answers below (which I edited for accuracy, length, clarity and context) are equal parts liberal, informed and shrewd. 

(PS: Let’s keep the discussion going. If you have experience talking to people who believe a great economy is terrible, share it with the rest of us. What did you say? Did it seem to work? How did you know? Reply to this email or contact me at johnastoehr at gmail dot com. Thanks!)

Victoria Brownworth: Are you asking about the lived version or the “on paper” version? That’s the real issue for Biden his campaign needs to figure out. I love the paper version. It’s not the one I am living in, alas. Yet I still know Democrats offer the only chance at a better economy.

Steve Campbell: If they already believe it’s “terrible,” they’re clearly misinformed and I’m not sure that telling them it’s not terrible would work, nor do I think presenting numerous statistics saying otherwise would work, since they’d likely dismiss them as “rigged” or “fake.”

John Panzer: I’d ask if they or their family are doing worse. If so, I’d dive into why. If they say (as many do) they are doing fine but the country is worse off, I’d talk to them about the accumulation of income and wealth for the top 1 percent over the past few decades.

Virginia Heffernan: The economy is great, but if you have the standard rightwing terror of Biden, just say so.

David Akadjian: I’ve just been talking about how supermarket prices have been returning to normal. Even gas prices have come down and it’s summer with the higher-priced fuel mix.

@JMGFord: I know someone who said his mortgage went up. It wasn’t his mortgage. It was his property taxes. His home gained value. He didn’t care that his home appreciated, though, because he wasn’t selling. Ergo, he thinks the economy sucks, because “inflation.”

BarbaraG: Four companies control up to 85 percent of the meat market. Four airlines control 80 percent of air travel. Three companies control 92 percent of the soda market. Three control 73 percent of the cereal market. Didn’t know? Six companies control 90 percent of the news.

Wendy Jacobson: The stock market is at an all-time high, unemployment is at an all-time low. If you were here during the 2008 financial crisis or the covid crisis of 2020, there is no possible way that you could compare today to them. High prices are not the economy.

Catherine Hagman: I’ve spent most of my life in a country with a higher unemployment rate than the present one, which hasn’t been matched since my childhood. I’ve looked for work in times of high inflation, recession and challenging job markets. The previous administration practiced senseless chaos.

John Creighton: This is a particularly odd situation considering so many of the Trump supporters I know justified their support for such an unethical and corrupt candidate on the basis of “look at how good my 401(k) is doing.” Well, it’s doing even better now.

@LiberalLab: I’m over 50, have a gap in my resume (was unemployed by choice), reentered the market, sent one resume, interviewed, got a great job. Best job market of my lifetime! 401(k) through the roof. Restaurants and theaters are packed. People are spending!

@varanus: I sympathize with people who wrongly think the economy (the real one or the rich-people one) is terrible. I usually start by asking which part they’re thinking of. Most people say they are looking at rising prices and/or job insecurity, both of which are unfortunately not under the direct control of the president or even the Fed. We are not in the middle of a “traditional” inflation crisis. We’re in the middle of a “sellers are gouging us for all they can get” crisis, so the “normal” tools to deal with inflation (rising interest rates, etc.) just aren’t working because that’s not the problem. I then remind them that Republicans literally never want to curb prices or stabilize jobs.

@SouzM6: Ask them if they’re being deprived of anything in their life – if they traveled for a holiday or plan to travel; if they’ve been going out to restaurants or sporting events or concerts or any other leisure activity; or if they’ve been cutting back on spending drastically.

@CaveatEmproto: You can’t. All you can do is keep repeating and explaining reality and hope they come to their senses when they’re alone with their thoughts.

@aaricka34: I’d ask for what metrics they are looking at to make them feel that way. Inflation? We know it’s corporate greed. Gas prices? Coming down. Just a feeling? Tell them to stop watching cable news.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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