The Presidential race is boiling down to one dominant issue: which party's policies will do more to help the financially stressed American middle class. President Obama's campaign theme is that Mitt Romney and the Republicans cater to the rich, while Mr. Obama cares about struggling families.
He may care, but he sure hasn't done much for them. New income data from the Census Bureau, tabulated by former Census income specialists at the nonpartisan economic consulting firm Sentier Research, reveal that the three-and-a-half years of the Obama Presidency have done enormous harm to middle-class households.
In January 2009, the month President Obama entered the Oval Office and shortly before he signed his stimulus spending bill, median household income was $54,983. By June 2012, it had tumbled to $50,964, adjusted for inflation. (See the chart nearby.) That's $4,019 in lost real income, a little less than a month's income every year.
Unfair, you say, because Mr. Obama inherited a recession? Well, even if you start the analysis when the recession ended in June 2009, the numbers are dismal. Three years after the economy hit its trough, median household income is down $2,544, or nearly 5%.
Add the authors: "The overall decline since June 2009 was larger than the 2.6 percent decline that occurred" during the recession from December 2007 to June 2009. For household income, in other words, the Obama recovery has been worse than the Bush recession.
It's true that the Bush years overall were also not great for household incomes. According to Sentier's analysis, real median household income is down about 8% from $55,470 in 2000 before the dot-com bubble burst. Some of this decline is due to the continuation of a trend of smaller family size, lower fertility rates and more Americans living alone. But some was also due to the subpar economic growth across the 2000s.
That slow growth trend has become worse since the latest recession, and this is where Mr. Obama is implicated. The President portrays the financial decline of American families on his watch as part of a decades-long trend. He's wrong. Real income for middle-income households rose by roughly 30% from 1983 to 2005, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The political left likes to blame the ebbing of union power. But nongovernment unionization fell dramatically in the 1980s and '90s, and incomes rose.