The economic worries of 1992 helped elect Mr. Clinton, of course. And by the end of the decade, thanks to both his policies and a huge stock market bubble, the American economy was roaring along again. The deep anxiety of 1992 seemed to be a piece of economic history.
No more. Almost 16 years after Mr. Clinton’s speech at Wharton, the economy is again dominating a presidential race. While the details have changed, the main story line remains remarkably similar. A downturn has reawakened fears that the economy no longer works very well for the middle class.
Today, as was the case 16 years ago, the downturn itself isn’t the main problem. By 1992, as a matter of fact, the economy was already growing again. This year, it’s still possible ”” if less likely after Tuesday’s dismal retail sales report and another sharp decline in stock prices ”” that the country will avoid a full-blown recession.
The main problem now is that the good times are no longer good enough to carry the middle class through the bad times. For much of the last 35 years, the incomes of most workers have been growing far more slowly than they once did. In the current expansion, which started in 2001, the median weekly paycheck of workers has actually fallen 1 percent, once inflation is taken into account, according to the Labor Department.
Economists argue about the reasons for the great wage slowdown ”” technology, globalization, health care costs, the decline of unions, the rise of the new wealthy ”” but it clearly seems to have made people feel more vulnerable to small economic swings. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, only 19 percent of those responding said the country was headed in the right direction. That was the lowest percentage since the early 1990s.
Read it all. Note that the title above is that given by the NYT on its front page to this article, the article itself in Wednesday’s paper is entitled “A Revival of 1992’s Glum Mood.”