During the Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday (December 19), a moderator asked former Vice President Joe Biden how he would explain his economic position to the Americans who are encouraged by the economy on-paper stability during President Donald Trump’s time in office. After all, economic growth is one of Trump’s top talking points: He’s called it “the greatest economy in the history of the U.S.”
But Biden doesn’t think that the economy is actually doing that well: “The middle class is getting killed,” he said during the debate. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg hopped in next, saying, “Where I live, folks aren’t measuring the economy by how the Dow Jones [Industrial Average] is doing,” referring one way people measure the performance of the stock market.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren built upon the momentum, saying, “We’ve got a government that works great for those with money and doesn’t work much for anyone else.”
“Trump goes around saying the economy is doing great,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said, before using one of his favorite lines to speak to how the economy works for those who have a lower income. “Tonight while three people own more wealth than the bottom half of America, 500 thousand Americans — including 30 thousand veterans — are sleeping out on the streets. Today in America, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth. More income inequality since the 1920s. We need an economy that works for working families, not just the one percent.”
It’s true that the economy is doing well in some aspects: According to the New York Times, the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 50 years at 3.6 percent. But that is partly due to the fact that the labor participation rate declined, which means that more people, like freelancers and the self-employed, aren’t being counted in that unemployment number.
The median income has also slightly increased, according to CBS News. Data from the National Women’s Law Center shows that the gender wage gap is closing. Wage growth is on the rise, inflation is low, and the yearly wage growth relative to that inflation is regularly outpacing expectations. And while the stock market is performing well, according to The Week, only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks of some form.
As seemingly every candidate on stage on Thursday night pointed out, not all Americans are feeling that. According to a September survey from Pew, 69 percent of Americans think that current economic conditions are helping the wealthy, while just a third think they’re helping the middle class, and a quarter think they’re helping the poor.
That’s just one poll, though: Another poll from American Barometer shows that 43 percent of Americans think the economy is “good,” and a poll from CBS News shows that seven in 10 Americans think the economy is doing well right now.
Plenty of candidates believe their policies would reinvigorate the economy even further: A number of candidates want to help young people with their student loan debt, which they believe would free up even more resources for the next generation of Americans to buy homes, start and raise families, and otherwise invest in their futures. Other candidates want to overhaul the current healthcare system, which is often for-profit and leaves many people scrambling to afford their prescriptions or doing without healthcare entirely. And over the weekend, candidates stood in solidarity with a local union that advocated for better working conditions and wages for their workers.