By traditional measures, the economy is strong. Inflation has slowed significantly. Salaries are increasing. Unemployment is near its lowest level in half a century. Job satisfaction has increased.
However, Americans don’t necessarily see it that way. In it Recent New York Times/Siena College Poll Of voters in six swing states, eight in 10 said the economy was fair or poor. Only 2 percent said it was excellent. Majorities of each group of Americans (regardless of gender, race, age, education, geography, income and party) had an unfavorable view.
“People say, ‘Don’t economists know why we’re unhappy?’ Just look at the prices!’” said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan who worked in the Obama administration. “We’re looking at prices and wondering, why are they buying so much stuff?”
“People have faced higher prices and that’s difficult, but that doesn’t explain why people haven’t cut back,” he said of a phenomenon known as revealed preference. “They have passed by as if they saw nothing but good times ahead. So why are his actions so out of step with his words?
The question has led to a variety of recent attempts to explains the disconnectionWhat could it be fundamental in the 2024 elections. In the survey, 59 percent of voters said Donald J. Trump would do a better job on the economy, compared to 37 percent of those who said Biden would.
We called back to voters who said the economy was “bad” or “fair” to find out why they felt that way, when the metrics, and often their personal finances, tell a different story.
many said his own finances were good enough – They had jobs, they owned homes, they made ends meet. But they felt like they were “just getting by” and “had nothing left over.” Many felt angry and anxious about prices, the pandemic and politics.
Those feelings may be driving attitudes about the economy, the economists speculated, sounding more like their colleagues in another branch of the social sciences, psychology.
“The pandemic shattered many illusions of control,” Professor Stevenson said. “I wonder to what extent that has made us more aware of all the places we have no control over, like prices and the real estate market.”
Inflation weighed heavily on voters: Nearly all of them cited frustration over the price of something they buy regularly.
“Gas prices are obscene,” said Leslie Linn, 47, a restaurant manager in Carson City, Nevada. “I’m looking for mayonnaise for seven dollars. It’s like, how does that exist? So yeah, the economy is not very good.”
Dillon Nettles, 23, of Claxton, Georgia, had just stopped by Chick-fil-A when he answered our call. “What used to cost you seven dollars for a sandwich, a large fry and a sweet tea, now costs 14 dollars,” he said.
Consumer prices rose 3.2 percent in October from a year earlier, a decline in the year-on-year inflation rate of more than 8 percent by mid-2022. But inflation “casts a long shadow on how people evaluate things,” said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist. Some people may expect prices to return to what they were before, something that rarely happens (and deflation can often signal economic catastrophe).
Furthermore, economists said, wages have risen along with prices. Real average income for full-time workers they are slightly higher than at the end of 2019, and for many low-income people, their increases have outpaced inflation. But it’s common for people to think of prices at face value, rather than in relation to their income, a habit economists call money illusion.
“Everyone thinks a pay rise is something they deserve, and the economy imposes a price increase on them,” Professor Katz said.
The youngest, who were key to President Biden’s victory in 2020, but who showed less support for him in the new survey, I had worries specific to their stage of life. In the survey, 93 percent of them rated the economy unfavorably, more than any other age group.
Certain campaign promises aimed at them, such as student loan debt forgiveness and child care subsidies, were shot down by the Supreme Court or I do not pass in Congress. There is a sense that it has become more difficult to achieve the things that their parents did, such as buying a house. The houses are less affordable than at the height of the 2006 bubble, and less than half of Americans can afford it.
Jaeden Grimes, 21, from Avondale, Arizona, has been trying to restart her life since graduating from college, working a temporary job while looking for a better job and her own place to live. “Half of my income will most likely go to rent,” she said. “I was really hoping for that student loan forgiveness.”
Voters who had already achieved certain indicators of economic success, such as advancing their careers or owning a home, also described feeling stuck, with little money to splurge or make a life change. But overall, economists said, the data show that more people are quitting their jobs to start better ones, moving to more desirable locations because they can work remotely, and starting new businesses.
“Even if you hear all this (we added 100,000 new jobs), it literally means nothing to me,” said Stephen Blanck, 39, who recently moved from Wisconsin to Fayetteville, North Carolina. “Everything is fake when it comes to how people really are.” doing.”
He said he makes nearly $80,000 serving in the military and working as a DoorDash delivery driver, but feels he had more money to spend a decade ago, when he was two pay grades lower.
“I’m not buying fancier cars, I got a really good interest rate on my house, we have kids, but they don’t cost that much,” he said. “But we actually hit the budget. There is simply nothing left to invest in the future.”
Nevada restaurant manager Ms. Linn is up for a promotion and owns her home, with a decent mortgage rate. However, there is a job opening of interest in San Diego and she is not happy because she cannot afford the higher costs of living there or buy a new house with higher interest rates.
People always have financial constraints like those Ms Linn described, Professor Stevenson said. In a slow labor market, for example, it is difficult to change jobs; Now it is easier, but housing is more expensive.
Still, the uncertainty that Blanck and Linn share about the future was present in many voters’ stories, darkening their economic prospects.
“The degree of volatility that we have experienced due to different events (from the pandemic, from inflation) leaves them without confidence that even if objectively good things are happening, they are going to persist,” Professor Katz said.
“When things are going well, that means the rich are getting richer and all of us are pretty much second best,” said Manuel Zimberoff, 26, a manufacturing engineer in Philadelphia. “And if things go wrong, the rich will keep getting richer and we’re all screwed.”
He says Biden’s pro-union stance and investments in clean energy and infrastructure have benefited the economy. She will vote for him, although his ideal candidate would be a socialist: “Bernie Sanders, but 40 years younger and gay.”
Rickie Glenn, a 35-year-old police sergeant from Commerce, Georgia, probably won’t vote unless Robert F. Kennedy Jr. it’s on the ballot. He bought a house during the pandemic, but he doesn’t really care that its value is increasing; what he feels is his rising property taxes. “I feel like families, it’s a lower class,” she said. “Families are just getting by.”
The economic difficulties are greater for those without a college degree, which is the majority of Americans. They earn less, receive fewer benefits from employers, and have more physically demanding jobs.
Suzanne Haberkorn, 41, a bank teller in Waukesha, Wisconsin, fears she will not be able to get ahead with her high school education and health problems that make it difficult for her to work. She left her job at Walmart because it was too physical, but her current job is mentally exhausting. She has been denied disability because she works, she said: “It’s pretty much like, you need to be homeless, jobless and moneyless to get help.”
For approximately two decadespartisanship is increasingly been correlated with opinions on the economy: Research has shown that people value the economy less when their party is not in power. Nearly all Republicans in the survey rated the economy unfavorably, and 59 percent of Democrats did so.
Steven Cabrera, 35, who works for the military in Phoenix, was among the 57 percent of voters who said economic issues were a higher priority than social ones. But when he was asked about them, he seemed more interested in talking about other things: the visibility of transgender people, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and, above all, the war.
He raised the issue of American financing in Ukraine and the Middle East. He wanted to know: Is that the reason our economy is “slowing down”? He wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be. He plans to vote for “the Republican, any Republican,” he said. “The Democrats have let me down.”