Against all odds, Americans are happier than they have been in over a decade. That lone fact could save the GOP in 2018 and rescue Donald Trump’s presidency.
The dissonance could make your ears bleed. The liberal media anguishes over the prospective collapse of ObamaCare, threatened trade wars, saber-rattling from Pyongyang and a gazillion other looming disasters, real and imagined.
Never-Trumper Peggy Noonan and other pundits question the emotional stability of the president and pass on rumors that his own cabinet might maneuver to bring him down. Morning Consult reports that Trump’s approval ratings are sinking in every state.
Yet, ordinary Americans are nearly giddy with optimism. That is the only way to interpret the most recent reading of consumer sentiment, in which the country assessed their “current conditions” as the best since 2000.
The survey, released Friday by the University of Michigan, put overall consumer sentiment at the highest level since 2004, and it took economists by surprise. The bump in optimism carried across age and income levels, and even across party politics.
How can Americans be so upbeat?
The country has been tortured by a slew of disasters, from hurricanes to wildfires to the Las Vegas massacre. One of the nation’s favorite pastimes — football — has boiled up into a toxic political stew.
In addition, the liberal media is fear-mongering nonstop on the likely fallout from President Trump’s bellicose exchanges with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, threats to undo the Iran nuclear accord, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and most recently, efforts to rewrite ObamaCare. According to the mainstream press, nothing’s going right.
Remarkably, most of the country is ignoring the gloom and doom, pumped up by the surging stock market, accelerating wages and a strengthening jobs picture. Though the country gives some credit to Obama for the economic progress, people continue to expect Trump’s agenda of lighter regulation and lower taxes to keep the good times rolling.
The data keep pouring in. Retail sales last month jumped 4.4 percent against the year before, the best showing since March 2015 and much better than the consensus expectation of 1.7 percent. Numerous reports cited higher gasoline prices in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey as one source of the increase and also pointed to higher auto sales as consumers sought to replace vehicles damaged in the storms.
The notion that people battered by hurricanes immediately hightailed it to their auto dealers seems unlikely, but we shall see. Given the sentiment indicators, it may also be that shoppers are simply less cautious going into the fall.
Last year, median household income climbed 3.2 percent after inflation, and the number of Americans living in poverty dropped. This past September, the average hourly wage rose half a percent compared to the prior month, or nearly 3 percent, year-over-year, one of the best showings in years.
Why? Because we are creating more high-paying jobs. In September The New York Times reported, “Manufacturers nationwide added workers last month at the fastest pace in more than four years.” In August, the ISM indicator of industrial activity bounced to a six-year high.
To top off the good news on the labor front: Unemployment claims dropped in early October to the lowest level in six weeks. More startling: The number of people collecting unemployment benefits, described by the “continuing claims” statistic, fell to 1.89 million, the lowest in 44 years!
Under President Trump, the number of full-time workers has increased to 127.2 million, up 2.5 million from a year ago. Also, the labor participation rate has begun to inch higher; it now stands at 63.1 percent, versus 62.9 percent last year.
A continued rise would repudiate all those stories about how aging caused able-bodied men and women to drop out of the workforce. Many of us think Obama’s misguided health care and welfare policies helped drive participation down.
Americans give President Obama some credit for the improving economy, and rightly so. But there is no denying that, as the hypercritical New York Times reported, “Sentiment among both business leaders and consumers has improved markedly since Mr. Trump’s victory in November…and manufacturers have indeed stepped up the pace of hiring this year.”
The country’s surging optimism must be driving Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his Democrat colleagues batty. What can they do? No matter how much they vilify and block President Trump, an accelerating economy will doom their chances of winning the House next year and turning around their party’s long-term decline.
The old maxim, “It’s the economy, stupid,” has never seemed more apt.
Published by The Hill