President Reagan won a landslide election in 1980 when he asked voters a simple question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Voters knew they weren't. Midterm voters should be asking themselves that same question now, before casting their ballots next Tuesday. Only this time, the answer is yes.
The latest evidence: The Labor Department reported this week that private sector wages and salaries rose 3.1% in the third quarter of this year, compared with last year. Total compensation, which includes things like health benefits, climbed 2.9%. Both growth rates are significantly faster than two years ago.
This was just the latest spate of good economic news. But there is plenty more. In fact, by almost any measure, the country is much better off than it was in November 2016.
Here's a rundown:
In the first three quarters of 2016, quarterly GDP growth was an anemic 1.5%, 2.3% and 1.9%. This year, quarterly GDP growth has been a far more robust 2.2%, 4.2% and 3.5%.
Jobs and Unemployment
There are 4.3 million more private sector jobs than there were two years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are 1.8 million fewer unemployed. The unemployment rate is now 3.7%, down from 4.9% — where it had been stuck throughout 2016.
Among blacks, the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 6%, and among Hispanics it's now 4.5%. It was 5.7% two years ago.
The average time people are unemployed is now 24 weeks, down from 27 weeks just before the 2016 elections.
Take-home pay for most people is higher today than it was two years ago, for the simple reason that Republicans cut income taxes. Those savings started showing up when the new withholding schedules went into effect in February.
And, after stagnating for all 2016, median household incomes started to steadily rise. As a result, median household income today is 4% higher than it was in November 2016 — after adjusting for inflation — according to Sentier Research.
At $63,007, median household income is at all-time highs.
Even with the recent volatility in the stock market, the Dow is up by almost 42% since early November 2016.
The broader S&P 500 index is up 31%. And the Nasdaq Composite index is up 47%.
People are also far more optimistic today than they were two years ago. The Consumer Confidence Index was at 98.6 just before the 2016 elections.
Today, it stands at 137.9. To put that in perspective, this index was at 100 in 1985 — the year after Reagan won his landslide re-election.
The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index was at 51.4 in November 2016. The latest reading for this index is 57.8.
Two years ago, the IBD/TIPP Financial Stress Index stood at 56.3 — anything over 50 signals stress. The latest reading for this index: 48.4.
In other words, the public is 12% more optimistic about the economy and 14% less stressed about their personal finances than they were two years ago.
Business optimism is also far higher today than it was two years ago.
Despite Democrats' attacks on Republicans over health care, the fact is that those enrolling in ObamaCare right now are better off than they were in November 2016.
Two years ago, enrollees faced average premium increases of 25% and declining choices. This year, the average premium is down by 1.5% — the first time that's ever happened under ObamaCare.
What's more, individuals in some states have a new low-cost option that they didn't have two years ago — short-term insurance plans that last a year. These plans don't have to comply with ObamaCare's myriad benefit mandates and rating regulations. As a result, they're far cheaper.
This strong, across-the-board economic progress was not accidental — nor was it inevitable, as Obama would have voters believe.
As we've noted in this space many times, after eight years of underwhelming growth, the economy was stagnating when Trump took office. Wages, unemployment, stocks, household incomes all flatlined that year. And GDP growth was decelerating.
Why Are You Better Off?
The turnaround under Trump was not only unexpected, but deemed impossible by Democrats, who were trying to convince the public that 2% growth was the best this country could do.
Yet despite the improvements, there's no guarantee this growth will continue, especially if Democrats win control of Congress and are able to thwart Trump's pro-growth economic policies going forward.
There are already some signs of weakness, such as the data from outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas showing a spike in the number of job cuts announced last month.
Democrats want the midterm elections to be a referendum on President Trump.
We hope it is.
Because if voters are honest with themselves, they'll realize that Trump and the GOP are delivering for the country, just as they promised.
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