Trying to hang on as a member of the middle class has been terrifying for many Americans these past four years—an issue that goes beyond just unemployment.
The facts are grim. Most Americans make less now than they did four years ago. Household income adjusted for inflation has dropped back to where it was in the mid-1990s. Middle class wealth has fallen a whopping 40% in the last decade.
The cost of almost everything has gone up. Gas has more than doubled since Barack Obama took office. This may not matter for people riding the subway in Washington or who bike to work in a hip, progressive neighborhood. However, for the 95% of us who have progressed beyond public transportation, this has been a kick in the teeth. It’s also beginning to drive up family grocery bills.
While politicians and pundits who talk about health care focus on the uninsured, most of the middle class has insurance. But its price continues to rise faster than inflation, jumping 9% last year alone. Obamacare is already making this worse, and will soon make middle class healthcare even less personalized and more like a trip to the DMV.
The price of having kids and eventually sending them to college has escalated, even as having a degree has become more essential to staying in the middle class. Millions of young Americans now start off with staggering debt and lousy job prospects—both results of federal overreach into every facet of the economy and American life. The birth rate has dropped in each of the past four years since the recession began as few American can afford families.
Bureaucrats hassle middle class Americans with increasing frequency. TSA employees have been empowered by our government to turn routine travel into something resembling prison in-processing. The number of federal criminal laws and associated federal agents with expensive toys continues to mushroom.
Bank bureaucrats have made it much tougher for middle class Americans to get a mortgage to buy a first home—a result of federal actions that punished everyone for the housing downturn except those in the political class who caused the crisis.
It’s no wonder Vice President Biden said the middle class “has been buried the last four years.” He’s right. Put simply, if you are in the middle class, you are being forced to pay higher bills with less money as more bureaucrats paid handsomely with your money boss you around.
Sensing a political problem from this, the Obama White House slapped together a 20-page brochure called a “Plan for Jobs and Middle-Class Security.” It has some good ideas, like borrowing Mitt Romney’s plan to simplify corporate taxes. However, Obama has had four years to do this, including two when his party dominated Congress and could do whatever it wished. Can we really believe he would undertake reforms in a second term that he has rejected or ignored for the past four years—especially those that go against his anti-free-market orthodoxy?
Similarly on energy issues, Obama has now adopted the “all-of-the-above” plan most associated with Sarah Palin in the last presidential election. Good for Obama, but his plan doesn’t even say it will lead to lower gas prices. It ignores the Obama-Bernanke stimulus spending and dollar-printing that is driving up gas prices by debasing the currency in which oil is traded globally. It promises new exploration in the US. But from blocking Keystone XL to a moratorium on Gulf of Mexico drilling permits to slow walking new drilling on federal land, Obama has been an obstacle to the oil and gas revolution underway in North America. Why should voters expect he’d be any different in a second term just because he says so now?
Furthermore, matters are set to get much worse without change. Without alteration, the expiration of the Bush tax levels in January will result it higher taxes not only on the “rich,” but on all Americans who pay income tax.
Who among the candidates is better suited to turn back this perfect storm facing the middle class? Voters should recall Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Christian Whiton is the president of the Hamilton Foundation. He was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration and a policy advisor on the Giuliani and Gingrich presidential campaigns. He is author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" (Potomac Books 2013).