November’s election needs to be about the people who are unemployed or underemployed and how best to increase wages.
It worked for Bill Clinton.
“It’s the economy, stupid” was coined by Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville in Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against President George H. W. Bush.
In March 1991, days after the ground invasion to liberate Kuwait, 90 percent of Americans approved of President Bush’s job performance. The following year when the economy soured and the President had to swallow his campaign promise not to raise taxes, Americans’ opinions had turned sharply. By August 1992, 64 percent of Americans disapproved of Bush’s job performance.
So Americans often vote with their wallets in mind. If their bank accounts are drained and prospects for work are dim, incumbents are vulnerable – which brings us to this November’s election.
The election this year may be considered by pundits to be a prelude to the 2016 presidential ballot, but it is more than that. It is a referendum on jobs and wages.
The good news is the unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent, the lowest since July 2008, and 248,000 jobs were added in September. The bad news is the labor participation rate – the number of people actually working or looking for work – is at its lowest since 1978 when the U.S. economy was in a nose dive. And it continues to slide. The number of people in the job market fell by 97,000 workers for the second month in a row.
That means that the unemployment rate is dropping in part because millions of people have given up looking for work because they can’t find a job. Ironically, these people are no longer counted as unemployed.
The other troubling news is average hourly earnings declined, and in the last year most workers barely received a two percent wage increase after inflation. “No wonder millions of American say they believe the economy is still in recession, even though the downturn officially ended 64 months ago,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Activists responded by pushing a $15 minimum wage. But low wages are caused by the bad economy. Artificially hiking them won’t solve anything, it will simply raise some people’s pay and eliminate other people’s jobs in order to pay for it.
A recent Rasmussen Report shows that 65 percent of voters now believe the nation is headed down the wrong track, up from 63 percent a year ago. Voters also take a dim view of our economic conditions. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is the average of two components: how Americans view current economic conditions, and their perceptions of whether the economy is getting better or worse. In September, 20 percent said the economy is “excellent” or “good,” while 34 percent said it is poor.
All that said, what should voters ask the politicians running for office this year?
At the national level, Congress needs to pass pro-growth legislation and President Obama needs to sign it. Among the measures that can stimulate our economy, create jobs and drive up wages are regulatory relief, fixes to Obamacare, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and tapping our vast domestic energy resources, which would lower energy costs and create thousands of high-paying jobs.
In Washington state, Gov. Inslee and state lawmakers should focus on streamlining and reducing regulations, keeping costs of doing business reasonable, growing international trade and avoiding costly new state programs requiring higher taxes and fees.
The Wall Street Journal summarized it best: “If nothing else, the policy bias would be toward measures that increase growth, [rather] than higher taxes and additional costs for business. And, faster growth would go a long way to finally giving Americans a raise.”
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.