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The Roots of Economic Gloom and Doom « The Washington Independent

Some conservatives are charging that Democrats went too far this week in focusing many of their speeches on the economic worries of the middle class. At The Corner, Jay Nordlinger was among many describing the Democratic economic anxiety as over the top, even contending that “the convention has portrayed America as one big dust bowl. It might as well be 1930!”

What’s really going on? To some economists, middle class anxiety is real, and it has many causes. EconomistMom explains it by citing David Leonhardt’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine. The story detailing Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s economic thinking. From Leonhardt:

The fact that the economy grows — that it produces more goods and services one year than it did in the previous one — no longer ensures that most families will benefit from its growth. For the first time on record, an economic expansion seems to have ended without family income having risen substantially. Most families are still making less, after accounting for inflation, than they were in 2000. For these workers, roughly the bottom 60 percent of the income ladder, economic growth has become a theoretical concept rather than the wellspring of better medical care, a new car, a nicer house — a better life than their parents had.

Americans have still been buying such things, but they have been doing so with debt. A big chunk of that debt will never be repaid, which is the most basic explanation for the financial crisis. Even after the crisis has passed, the larger problem of income stagnation will remain. It’s hardly the economy’s only serious problem either. There is also the slow unraveling of the employer-based health-insurance system and the fact that, come 2011, the baby boomers will start to turn 65, setting off an enormous rise in the government’s Medicare and Social Security obligations.

Most of these problems aren’t immediate, which helps explain why they have gone unaddressed for so long. And the United States remains a fabulously prosperous country, relative to almost any other country, at any point in history. Yet Americans seem to realize that something has gone wrong.

If Republicans next week are going to try to convince people that the economy is in better shape than they think, they’ll be facing a tough challenge.

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