The Economy may be steaming ahead, but not everyone sees it that way.

David Paul
6 min readDec 4, 2023

Democrats really don’t want to believe the polls. It can’t really be true that 80% of Americans, including a large share of Biden voters, think the economy is fair or poor, and getting worse. In what world are those people living? After all, despite the best efforts of the Federal Reserve Bank to push the economy into a recession, economic growth topped 5% in the third quarter, inflation has come back down to earth — it hit zero on a month-over-month basis in October — and unemployment remains at unimaginably low levels. Today, the number of Americans working as a share of the population is at its highest level in decades, and those who have a job have never had a better moment to seek a raise, or pursue new and better opportunities.

Those are simply the facts. So what are Americans whining about? Perhaps, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argued the other day, Democrats are simply losing the public relations war about the economy. In that view, an overwhelming majority of the population appears to have succumbed to Republican propaganda, and at the worst possible moment. “It’s not the economy.” Bruni wails, giving voice to Democrats who are frantic in the face of polls showing Donald Trump leading in key battleground states in the 2024 election. “It’s the democracy. It’s the decency. It’s the truth.”

But it is not everyone’s truth. As illustrated in the snippet below from the recent New York Times/Siena College poll, the younger a person is, the less education a person has, and if they are a person of color, the less they appear to care about the societal issues that tend to be the focus of the New York Times op-ed page — abortion, guns, democracy, etc. — and the more singular their interest is economic issues vs. everything else.

As shown here, while white voters with a college degree are split roughly evenly, 47% to 42%, on whether they care more about economic vs. societal issues, there is no such ambiguity among non-white voters with no college education, as those voters prioritize economic matters over societal issues by an overwhelming 68% to 19%. The more Democrats appear captive of issues that animate college campuses, the more they can expect to see — as they have seen — less educated non-white voters who were supposed to be Democrats as a matter of demographic destiny, migrate toward Republicans.

And as much as the economy seems to be going gangbusters based on the high-level metrics, there is another side of the story.

The starting point, of course, is inflation. Inflation is an invisible and insidious force that increases people’s stress and undermines their sense of financial well-being. While the most recent reading of inflation shows prices flat on a month-over-month basis, and just 3.2% over the past year, those facts do little to mitigate the reality that, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it costs Americans $119.27 to buy the same basket of goods and services that cost them $100 four years ago. As much as Joe Biden tries to jawbone Americans into feeling good about the economy, and BLS data shows that incomes are now rising faster than costs for most Americans, it will take time for income growth to make up for three years of real income declines on account of post-Covid inflation.

But there is more to it than just the cost of stuff. While people do have greater economic opportunity in an economy where there continues to be almost 10 million job openings — a number that is off the charts by any historical measure — economic mobility is a different story. Fed tightening has pushed home mortgage rates up to nearly 8%, a level last seen 20 years ago, and at least double the rate people had come to expect. As mortgage rates have skyrocketed, home sales have plummeted, as homebuilders find buyers unwilling to lock in high cost mortgages, and homeowners who might have previously chosen to downsize are instead staying put, as they don’t want to give up a current low interest rate mortgage, and take on a new, costlier one. These housing market dynamics have undermined labor market mobility that we have long taken for granted. Individuals and families who might want to relocate to pursue job opportunities and higher incomes now find that packing up and moving is not as simple as it once was.

If Americans are feeling under financial stress, it is because they are. Individual and family balance sheets have taken a beating since the Covid-19 pandemic waned. The Great Resignation and the period of exuberant consumer spending that came as the economy opened up, has given way to a dramatic and swift deterioration in personal finances. It is notable that even as 80% of Americans believe that the state of the economy is fair or poor, 80% is also the share of Americans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, who have less savings today than they did before the pandemic. As illustrated in the graphic here, household savings skyrocketed during the Covid years, as a result of both dramatic reductions in household spending and stimulus payments from the government.

Today, in the wake of the consumer spending binge as the economy opened up, those savings have disappeared. And even as family savings have dwindled, their household debt — which includes mortgage, credit card, and student loan balances — has hit historic highs. Taken together, those data suggest that even as the national economy is booming, American families are seeing their personal finances deteriorate.

Forty-two years ago, in a debate against then-President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan asked what would become a seminal question in presidential campaigns: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” He did not ask “how is the national economy doing,” he asked “how are YOU doing?” That is a difference Democrats need to understand, as they continue to trumpet 5.2% growth. Economic growth is good — it is certainly better than the alternative — but for a majority of Americans, that growth has yet to be manifest in their daily lives. It is hard to imagine that some of the problem that Joe Biden is increasingly having with Black men and Hispanic voters doesn’t stem from that disconnect between the economic miracle the Biden campaign describes week after week, and the economic circumstances they experience in their own lives.

If the 2024 election were held today, it could well come down to which worldview drives the electorate, that of James Carville or that of Liz Cheney. In 1992, when Carville was the chief strategist of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, he spoke what has long been seen as a simple truth: all things being equal, elections come down to the state of the economy and how people feel they are doing. Today, while the state of the economy is very good by most measures, people are not feeling the same about their own lives.

Liz Cheney, on the other hand, wants American voters to understand clearly that all things are not equal this time. The nation is at risk of bringing a dictator to power, and how those 80% of Americans feel about the economy is besides the point. “We will be voting on whether to preserve our republic,” she wrote in her memoir published this week. “As a nation, we can endure damaging policies for a four-year term. But we cannot survive a president willing to terminate our Constitution.”

You can David’s recent posts at, and his writing dating back to 2004 at

Artwork by Joe Dworetzky. Follow his cartooning on Instagram at @joefaces and his journalism at



David Paul

Financial advisor to city and state governments. Lifelong Red Sox fan (don't hold it against me).