Explaining the state of the American economy at the moment is a conundrum. The labor market is good — as is much of the economy — and people say that everything is terrible.
The past couple of years have been a solid stretch for workers in America. Unemployment is low. People who want to find jobs, by and large, can. Wages are up — even accounting for inflation over the past several months, and especially for people at the lower ends of the income spectrum. Workers really have been able to flex their muscles, whether that means quitting their jobs or unionizing or going on strike.
And yet, amid all this, poll after poll shows that Americans say the economy is absolutely awful (what Americans do in this supposedly awful economy is a different thing, which we’ll get to later). That such a strong labor market isn’t making a dent, opinion-wise, is a little weird. It seems like this jobs landscape should make the public feel better. So why do people say it doesn’t?
There are some obvious answers as to why Americans are so disgruntled. Everything is super expensive. The pandemic hangover is persistent — long covid isn’t just physical, it’s emotional. The government supports doled out in recent years — expanded unemployment insurance, the student loan pause, the child tax credit — have expired. The country’s political system is not exactly working spectacularly, not to mention the sense of dread heading into the 2024 elections.