By Gerri Willis
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As you listen the president’s state of the union address tonight, you might be asking yourself about the state of your personal economy. Are you better off or worse off than you expected to be when the president took office? For his part, President Obama will, no doubt, highlight macro numbers, the ones that describe the entire economy, like third quarter GDP growing 4.1 percent. The performance was better, if not great. And, no doubt, he will cite the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 percent from a recession high of 10 percent. These are facts that the president will likely point to tonight as evidence of the effectiveness of Washington policies.
But on Main Street the story is different. A recent survey showed that 74 percent of Americans believe the economy is in a recession. Digging into the numbers it’s easy to see why we’re so pessimistic. While the headline on last month’s jobs report looked good, job creation was a paltry 74,000, the worst in 10 months. That’s a rounding error for a $17 trillion economy. Truth is, we’re nowhere near to replacing the 8.7 million jobs we lost during the recession.
What’s more, the economy and Obama policies have dramatically reshaped the workforce. While some workers have no doubt retired in recent years, you have to go back 30 years to find a period in which workforce participation is lower. In other words, the number of Americans working fulltime is roughly equivalent to the period before women entered the workforce en masse. Discouraged, many workers are simply not trying to find a new job.
In short, many of us still feel like the economy is in neutral, a tepid recovery that is barely providing opportunity to those who need it. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center and USA Today, the numbers of Americans identifying themselves as middle class fell, while those identifying themselves as lower class soared. Young people, in particular, are likely to define themselves as lower class, with those numbers doubling in the past six years under the weight of rising college debt and punk job opportunities.
I think one number describes how many of us are feeling about today’s economy better than any other and that is average weekly wages. The typical fulltime American worker made $831 a week in December 2013, that’s DOWN $2 from when the president took office. In other words, if you are lucky enough to find a job, your pay is no better than it was five years ago. That’s the essence of the Obama economy: Stagnation.