Some startlingly good economic news surfaced two weeks ago.
You missed it? That’s OK. It was easy to overlook economic news amidst all the deploring and pneumonia-ing and birther-ing that comprised the most recent episodes of the Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton show.
We’re about to add an exciting new chapter Monday night, as the two least popular candidates of recent memory square off in a televised debate all the TV talking heads assure us will be the most watched presidential showdown in ages.
It doesn’t seem logical that we’d love to watch two people we hate, but given the tabloid-ready headlines of this campaign, it makes sense.
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But back to that bit of good economic news. The Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty and income showed that last year, poor and middle-class Americans enjoyed their best year of economic improvement in decades. Real median household income rose to $56,500, a jump of 5.2 percent – the largest bump since the bureau started tracking this data point in the 1960s.
The number of people in poverty fell by 3.5 million.
President Barack Obama hailed the numbers as proof that the benefits of the nation’s economic recovery are finally filtering down to the less fortunate.
But Republicans were also right when they said the numbers show too many people are still being left behind. Median incomes jumped by 7.3 percent in America’s cities, but they barely moved in rural areas like those in eastern and western North Carolina.
It’s tempting to chalk such problems up to the capricious whims of a rapidly shifting global economy. But researchers at Harvard Business School say the single biggest problem facing the U.S. economy isn’t the digital evolution or globalization – it’s the broken political system in Washington, D.C.
Because Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on infrastructure spending, corporate tax policy or other basic economic questions, the economy is struggling to reach top speed, according to Harvard’s U.S. Competitiveness Project report.
Both political parties duck the hard choices needed to fix the problems, the report contends. Instead, they identify others we can blame for our problems.
“The culprits, they say, are immigrants, Wall Street, well-off Americans, other countries, big business, international trade – everyone and everything except the parties themselves. The ‘solutions’ offered are emotionally appealing, but simplistic and deeply misguided,” the report says.
We’ve seen in the past week’s racial unrest here in Charlotte just how badly this country needs thoughtful, bridge-building leadership. It is sorely lacking.
Nevertheless, keep the Harvard report tucked in the back of your mind. Its authors say we’ve had 15 or so years of paralysis in Washington. We can’t afford that anymore.
With two deeply unpopular candidates squaring off in what the report calls “the most divisive and polarized presidential election campaign in a century,” the prospects for change in 2017 seem bleak.
No matter who wins this first debate, half of the country will emerge elated, the other half deflated. We seem hopelessly divided.
But we get the government we deserve. If we behave like adults and share the country with our political opponents, the parties will follow suit.
Yes, the economy is climbing out of the ditch. But it won’t truly succeed until we shatter gridlock in Washington.
If your candidate fails on Nov. 8, I hope you will remember that.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org