The Question

09.04.12

Better Off Than When, Exactly?

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” 

martin-omalley-gay-marriage-cheat
Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

This is literally the most anticipatable question for a presidential re-election—and the fact that Governor Martin O’Malley got caught flat-footed on it is a cause for head-scratching, if not concern, given his otherwise stalwart performance as a Obama surrogate.  

If there is cause for the stumble it is because the unemployment rate remains higher than when Barack Obama took office. Add to that fact so many underwater homes and under-employed workers and it seems callous to crow about improvements.  And “It could have been worse” is a definitively uninspiring re-election slogan. 

The right answer to the question is this: "Americans are better off than they were three-and-a-half years ago."

Obama took the oath of office in the midst of an economic freefall, during which our country was losing 750,000 jobs a month. The fiscal crisis began, of course, in September 2008. And the freefall was still accelerating four months later. Unemployment jumped to 8.3% in February of 2009 and 8.7% in March – heading toward 10% in October of 2009.  The stock market hit its low on Day 50 of the Obama administration – and has more than doubled from that low water mark since. That’s a 100% improvement under this supposedly socialist, anti-business president. (The fact that Main Street and Wall Street’s fortunes seem increasingly de-linked is a larger problem for another column).  

The Obama administration stopped the economic freefall and reversed the momentum from job losses toward job creation, however slow. Compared to the economic courses taken by other European nations, the stimulus seems smarter in the short run than austerity.  We are going to need to get our deficit and debt under control—and President Obama has failed to lead on this issue to date (maybe that should be a cornerstone goal of a second term)—but investment toward economic growth should come first.   

Bottom line: We are better off than we were once the Obama administration began to act in office. That’s not partisan spin, that’s objective fact.