As economic issues move to center stage in the election contest between John McCain and Barack Obama, two new studies are asking a key political question: Are people better off in 2008 than 2000? The simple answer, both studies conclude, is no.
The question, which echoes a famous query by Ronald Reagan in a 1980 presidential debate, is aimed at coming to a verdict on eight years of the Bush administration's economic stewardship.
Both studies came from Democratic-leaning groups. Whatever the motivations, the numbers are grim. A study by liberal think tank Third Way found that, of 18 indicators, including income, home equity, and healthcare costs, 16 worsened between 2001 and 2008, leaving the average postmillennium family worse off by $94,929 than a decade earlier. Similarly, a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 23 of 25 economic indicators were lower in 2008 than in 2000.
The Third Way study focused on how the economy has affected the average American family. Household incomes were sluggish, the study found, rising only $96 from 2001 to 2008. For the period between 1992 and 2000, that number was $9,408. At the same time, expenses rose. Gas prices have nearly tripled, healthcare costs rose by $3,113 for the average family, and a four-year public university degree cost $7,290 more. (All figures were adjusted for inflation).
The liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research focused on more general indicators, but its findings were similar. Inflation and unemployment both rose more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2008. Job growth, which had been increasing at a rate of 21 percent, slowed to 4 percent. Six million more Americans sank below the poverty line.