Americans’ incomes have declined during Obama’s presidency.
Democrats were gleeful this week when Donald Trump blurted out in Tuesday’s debate that “wages [are] too high.” But as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley prepare to debate Saturday night, the Democrats have a wage problem of their own: American incomes have dropped during the Obama presidency.
It’s a vulnerability that Republicans haven’t figured out how to exploit, and it’s clearly one of the biggest weaknesses in the Obama economic recovery.
In 2014, the last year for which Census data are available, median household income was $1,656 lower than it was in January 2009, when President Barack Obama took office. A recent survey by the private firm Sentier Research showed household income finally rose this year above its level in June 2009, when the Great Recession ended — but only by 1.3 percent. That’s a terrible record for any presidency. But that such stagnation occurred during a Democratic one is potentially a big problem for Democratic candidates, and especially for Clinton, who’s running on her role in that administration.
“I think that there are two phenomena here,” said Stuart Stevens, a senior strategist in Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “Those who normally are the most articulate, passionate voices for those who are doing least well in the economy have been muted over the past seven years” because they don’t want to undercut Obama. That should create an opening for Republicans.
But “Republicans have never been great at talking about this,” Stevens said.
The Republican candidates’ wage conundrum isn’t about excoriating the Democrats. They’re all too happy to call out Obama for failing to lift incomes.