Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?

What a great question going into the 2024 presidential election!

It was asked over 40 years ago and led to one of the biggest landslide elections in U.S. history.

As the Harvard Kennedy School summarized:

In the final week of the 1980 presidential campaign between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, the two candidates held their only debate. Going into the Oct. 28 event, Carter had managed to turn a dismal summer into a close race for a second term. And then, during the debate, Reagan posed what has become one of the most important campaign questions of all time: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Carter’s answer was a resounding “NO,” and in the final, crucial days of the campaign, his numbers tanked. On Election Day, Reagan won a huge popular vote and electoral victory. The “better off” question has been with us ever since. It’s simple common sense makes it a great way to think about elections. And yet the answers are rarely simple.

This is the question that Donald Trump, or whoever is the ultimate GOP nominee, should be constantly asking. At the next GOP debate, rather than debating Trump’s temperament and fitness to serve, while he is leading the GOP pack by 50 points, they should be hammering the question of whether average Americans are better or worse off than they were four years ago.

Let’s look at some specific metrics.

Start microeconomic issues hitting Americans in the wallet, beginning with retail gasoline prices. Despite the push for EVs, most Americans drive gasoline fueled vehicles and visit the gas station every week. Are they better off compared to four years ago?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas is currently per gallon $3.84 compared to $2.62 four years ago, about a 27 percent increase.

Add the fact that in 2019, four years ago, the U.S. was energy independent for the first time since 1957. In 2022, the U.S. imported 8.32 million barrels per day of petroleum, hardly energy independent. The strategic petroleum reserve is depleted, and the Biden administration is doing nothing to rein in rising gas prices.

In fact they are making it worse. Biden just cancelled oil and gas leases in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Biden also stopped the transport of fossil fuels by train, preferring far less efficient and more polluting trucks.

Another metric is food inflation as all Americans need to purchase and consume food. Food inflation currently sits at 4.9 percent compared to 1.8 percent four years ago. It has more than doubled in the past four years, with no sign of slowing down.

At a macroeconomic level, is our national debt higher or lower compared to four years ago? In 2022, the national debt was $30.8 trillion. Four years ago in 2018 it was $21.4 trillion. In four short years it increased by almost $10 trillion. It took America until 2008 to even reach $10 trillion in debt and in four short years we added 230 years’ worth of debt to our ledger.

That’s what America owes. How about what America spends? The annual U.S. budget deficit was $665 billion in 2017, rising to $2,772 in 2021. This is more than a fourfold increase in spending money we don’t have.

Budget deficits used to be measured in the billions. Under Biden they are in the trillions. Are Americans better or worse off because of their country heading further and further toward insolvency?

Most Americans live in a home that they purchased or are renting. As most homeowners have a mortgage, the monthly payment is an expense to most as either a mortgage or rent payment. This is another major cost of living, except for the homeless gracing our once-clean and beautiful cities.

How are mortgage rates compared to four years ago? The current 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 7.18 percent as of the end of last month. Four years ago, it was 3.58 percent, half of the current rate.

As most of a mortgage payment, particularly in the early years of the mortgage, is interest, doubling the interest rate means doubling the monthly payment. And that’s on top of higher food and gas prices as already noted.

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