After reading the at least billionth thinkpiece wondering why voters don’t think the US economy is doing well despite all economic indicators looking quite good, I have to wonder if maybe we need a different measure for this sort of thing.
Like, I keep hearing about how employment is strong. Yes, I am currently fully employed and that is better than being unemployed or under-employed. But that measure does not capture the general, constant sense that my job could end at any moment based on the whims of my employer and that if it did, I would then be facing a months-long search for a new job in a nationalized market mediated by intermediaries like LinkedIn, Ziprecruiter, and Indeed, all of whom have their own interests.
That measure also doesn’t capture stuff like the ever increasing amount of basic logistics that are thrust upon employees in the name of the free market. Instead of a pension plan that I don’t have to think about, I have a 401k that I have to constantly look after and fret about and which might be wiped out by a bad turn in the stock market right when I need it. I’ve got health coverage through my employer, but every year it gets more expensive, I have to go through an increasingly byzantine process to select among a bunch of inscrutable options, and then who knows if the grab-bag of plans I end up with will even be accepted by any providers in my area?
It all feels like a total crapshoot where I am left to fend entirely for myself. There are a bunch of enormous corporations on the other side of the bargaining table, and one wrong decision on my part or moment of bad luck could mean financial ruin.
And mind you, I have it relatively good! I have a job I like that pays me pretty well and mostly treats me decently. The anxiety I feel is nothing compared to that of, say, a single parent working multiple part-time jobs that have crazy schedules and terrible working conditions. And yet, that person is considered fully employed and part of these economic indicators that all the pundits tell us mean we should think things are great.
Employment is up, income is up, and inflation is going down, but unless you’re super-wealthy, everything feels tenuous, like you’re treading water at best and the second you stop you’re going to start sinking. You can tell people all you want that the sun is shining over their head and the water around them is warm, but they’re all exhausted and afraid of drowning.
I think that’s why people think the economy sucks.