Strong and Getting Stronger?

Christopher Hayes

A la Bush I, Bush II just can't seem to understand why working people aren't as enthused about the economy as his wealthy corporate donors are. There's a few reasons, well spelled out in this piece by Jacob S. Hacker at TNR Online: Voters say the economy isn't getting better because, as far as they're concerned, it's not. And perhaps the best explanation for this perception is that Americans are facing rising economic insecurity even as basic economic statistics improve. In March, for example, unemployment and inflation were both low. But roughly half of Americans agreed that "America no longer has the same economic security it has had in the past," while another fifth thought the statement could be true in the future. By contrast, just 27 percent believed the poor conditions of recent years represent merely the normal downside of the business cycle. This pervasive public anxiety is the main reason that usually sunny Americans are cloudy about their families' economic futures. It may also explain why voters have proved increasingly skeptical of good economic numbers--not just in this election, but also in 1992 and 1994, when, on paper, the economy was not nearly as bad as voters thought it was. Put simply, the statistics pundits love to cite don't capture what most Americans feel: an increasing financial pinch that is putting them at ever greater economic risk. … The signs are everywhere. Fourteen million more Americans lack health insurance now than two decades ago. Meanwhile, corporations have abandoned "defined-benefit pensions" that offer a fixed payment in retirement in favor of more risky "defined-contribution" plans like 401(k)s. And, according to Princeton economist Henry Farber, the effect of job loss on work hours, pay, and prospects for reemployment has worsened substantially since the 1980s. Indeed, in area after area, there's evidence of a vast shift in the economic security of most Americans--a massive transfer of financial risk from corporations and the government onto families and individuals. The part of the Kerry/Edwards message that I'm the most excited about is the focus on the "middle-class squeeze." Now this might seem like poll-tested nonsense, but if you've been paying attention, you realize it's not. People are actually working harder and longer for less money, fewer benefits, and far less security. This shouldn't be surprising. The Republican domination of government since 1980 (either in fact or in ideology) has led to a series of concrete policy decisions that concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, and put the interests of corporations over the interests of people.

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Christopher Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. He is an editor at large at the Nation and a former senior editor of In These Times.
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