By Stephen Moore
Young people, single women and minorities have fared the worst during the past four years.
For better or worse, a truism of American politics is that voters vote their pocketbooks. Yet according to a new report on median household incomes by Sentier Research, in 2012 millions of American voters apparently cast ballots contrary to their economic self-interest.
Each month the consultants at Sentier analyze the numbers from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and estimate the trend in median annual household income adjusted for inflation. On Aug. 21, Sentier released “Household Income on the Fourth Anniversary of the Economic Recovery: June 2009 to June 2013.” The finding that grabbed headlines was that real median household income “has fallen by 4.4 percent since the ‘economic recovery’ began in June 2009.” In dollar terms, median household income fell to $52,098 from $54,478, a loss of $2,380.
What was largely overlooked, however, is that those who were most likely to vote for Barack Obama in 2012 were members of demographic groups most likely to have suffered the steepest income declines. Mr. Obama was re-elected with 51% of the vote. Five demographic groups were crucial to his victory: young voters, single women, those with only a high-school diploma or less, blacks and Hispanics. He cleaned up with 60% of the youth vote, 67% of single women, 93% of blacks, 71% of Hispanics, and 64% of those without a high-school diploma, according to exit polls
According to the Sentier research, households headed by single women, with and without children present, saw their incomes fall by roughly 7%. Those under age 25 experienced an income decline of 9.6%. Black heads of households saw their income tumble by 10.9%, while Hispanic heads-of-households’ income fell 4.5%, slightly more than the national average. The incomes of workers with a high-school diploma or less fell by about 8% (-6.9% for those with less than a high-school diploma and -9.3% for those with only a high-school diploma).
To put that into dollar terms, in the four years between the time the Obama recovery began in June 2009 and June of this year, median black household income fell by just over $4,000, Hispanic households lost $2,000 and female-headed households lost $2,300.
The unemployment numbers show pretty much the same pattern. July’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data (the most recent available) show a national unemployment rate of 7.4%. The highest jobless rates by far are for key components of the Obama voter bloc: blacks (12.6%), Hispanics (9.4%), those with less than a high-school diploma (11%) and teens (23.7%).
This is a stunning reversal of the progress for these groups during the expansions of the 1980s and 1990s, and even through the start of the 2008 recession. Census data reveal that from 1981-2008 the biggest income gains were for black women, 81%; followed by white women, 67%; followed by black men, 31%; and white males at 8%.
In other words, the gender and racial income gaps shrank by more than in any period in American history during the Reagan boom of the 1980s and the Clinton boom of the 1990s. Women and blacks continued to make economic progress during the mini-Bush expansion from 2002-07. “Income inequality” has been exacerbated during the Obama era.
Mr. Obama has often contemptuously, and wrongly, branded the quarter-century period of prosperity beginning with the presidency of Ronald Reagan as a “trickle down” era. For many in the groups that Mr. Obama set out to help, a return to the prosperity of that era would be a vast improvement.
The Census Bureau data on incomes include cash government benefits, such as unemployment insurance, disability payments and the earned-income tax credit (but excludes Medicaid and food stamps). Most of the cash programs have surged in cost during the Obama presidency, yet incomes have still declined for the lowest-income eligible groups. This suggests that wages and salaries from employment have shrunk at an even faster pace than the Census data show. The shrinking paychecks of the past four years are consistent with two unwelcome anomalies of the recovery: a swift decline in labor-force participation to 63.4% from 65.5% during that period and a rise in part-time employment.
What all of this means is that the stimulus-led economic revival that began officially in June 2009—Vice President Joe Biden’s famous “summer of recovery”—has only resulted in lower incomes for at least half of Americans, the very ones who were instrumental in electing Mr. Obama twice.
The president’s announced economic policy goal, as well as that of progressives generally, is to spread the wealth. The left seems to have forgotten that when fewer American businesses and workers are creating wealth in the first place, something else is spread instead: misery.
Mr. Moore is a member of the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board.