The 1980's. Life or (at least) our minds were simpler then. As long as everyone got a tax cut, no one complained or seemed to notice that the gap between the rich and the rest of us was rapidly expanding. That was the goal of the Republican Party all along. They get the bread. We get the crumbs, and boy, did we feel lucky to get them. It was the yuppy generation. You're On Your Own (YOYO) was the lifestyle.
Economic uncertainty is in the air now. You can breathe it and feel it. It's in the rising costs of gasoline and food. It's in the rising costs of health care. It's in the decaying bridges and roads in states across the country. It's in the ballooning federal debt and the pressures we feel to override the property tax rate in our communities. It's palpable. It's real.
Our bleakness partly reflects the fact that most Americans are doing considerably worse than the usual economic measures let on. The official unemployment rate may be relatively low — but the percentage of prime-working-age Americans without jobs, which isn’t the same thing, is historically high. Gross domestic product is up, but the inflation-adjusted income of the median family is probably lower than it was in 2000.--Mb
Beyond that, perceptions of the current economy are strongly influenced by the public’s sense of the larger pattern.
When Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” the correct answer was “Yes.” Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was higher in 1980 than it had been in 1976. But gas lines and double-digit inflation made people feel that things were falling apart.
Conversely, unemployment was still historically high when Reagan proclaimed “Morning in America.” But people were ready to hear an upbeat message, because the economic storm seemed to have passed.
More recently, economic confidence held up relatively well during the 2001 recession, maybe because people were willing to see it as no more than a temporary interruption of the great 1990s boom.
A major reason we’re feeling so down now is that for working Americans the boom never did come back. Job creation in the post-2001 recovery was pathetic by Clinton-era standards; wages barely kept up with inflation. Instead, corporate profits and the incomes of a tiny elite surged — sucking up so much of the economy’s growth that only crumbs were left for everyone else.
Now the boom that wasn’t has gone bust — and Americans, understandably, have lost confidence in the prospects for a return to real prosperity.