A key question for voters this fall is whether they feel their lives have improved under President Obama. Many voters recognize that Obama inherited a grueling recession, and that fixing deep problems in the economy takes time. But there's also tangible impatience with the pace of improvement under Obama.
In a related story, I listed several important groups whose fortunes have, in fact, improved under Obama, such as stock investors, home buyers, and workers whose jobs were saved by the big 2009 stimulus plan. But there are many others who haven't been nearly as fortunate. Here are some of the people who are worse off today than when Obama took office in January 2009.
The typical family. Household income fell during the recession—which officially began at the end of 2007, 13 months before Obama was sworn in—but it has fallen even more in the three years since the recession officially ended in 2009. Between June 2009 and June 2012, real household income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen from $53,508 to $50,964, according to Census data analyzed by Sentier Research. That's a 5 percent decline, which "represents a significant reduction in the American standard of living," according to Sentier. The biggest losers have been families with an unemployed breadwinner, along with single-parent and black households.
A lot of displaced workers. Employment levels today are pretty close to what they were in January 2009. But compared to a year earlier, there are nearly 5 million more unemployed people today, plus 3 million more who work part time because they can't find full-time work. People who lost their jobs in 2008 obviously can't blame Obama, but a lot of displaced workers probably felt more hopeful about finding work when Obama took office than they did after many more months or years of looking. However you slice the numbers, it's clear that millions of workers feel they have fallen behind over the last four years.
Homeowners. The typical family has endured a crushing loss of net worth, mostly from the erosion of home values. Most of that occurred before Obama took office, but total home equity has still fallen by more than $1 trillion under Obama. Besides, homeowners aren't likely to draw distinctions regarding when, exactly, their home equity evaporated, especially since the housing bust has ground on during Obama's entire tenure. Only now does the housing market seem to be bottoming out.
Savers. The Federal Reserve's low-interest-rate policy has pushed interest rates close to zero, which has been a boon for those able to borrow. But people dependent on the interest from CDs or other safe investments—including even treasury securities—have struggled to earn income. Again, savings rates were already well below 1 percent when Obama took office, but anybody dependent on the interest earned from savings certainly hasn't feathered the nest under Obama.
Tomorrow's taxpayers. Stimulus spending and tax breaks for most Americans have helped sustain incomes during Obama's presidency, but they have added mightily to the national debt. Four years of Obama budgets will have added about $5.6 trillion to the national debt, which is now roughly $16 trillion. That has to be paid off somehow, and at some point before long there will be no choice but to raise taxes and cut benefits for most Americans. That's one way the legacy of Obama's first term will last much longer than four years.
Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.