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How To Square the Circle in Biden’s Tale of Two Economies

How To Square the Circle in Biden’s Tale of Two Economies

Mar 26, 2024

How To Square the Circle in Biden’s Tale of Two Economies

Joe Biden’s economy is reminiscent of Charles Dickens: It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. It depends who you ask. The White House is keen on touting the president’s supposed successes, but in poll after poll, the public is sour. How to square the circle in this tale of two economies?

Much of the U.S. has been squeezed for months, mostly by inflation. Since January 2021, the consumer price index, or CPI, has risen a cumulative 18%. Yet that measure obscures more than it reveals. Jason Trennert, founder of the brokerage and financial advisory firm Strategas, recently highlighted an alternative way to survey inflation: the Common Man CPI. Rather than focus on an unnecessarily large basket of goods, this tool exclusively measures price increases for necessities such as food, energy, clothing and shelter.

Between 2020 and 2024, the Common Man CPI has shown worse inflation in nearly every month than the official CPI. That’s in part because of how the tools take in the economy. The CPI includes discretionary spending, including such non-necessities as luxury products, hotel stays and entertainment services. As the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, particularly for necessities, Americans have cut back on discretionary spending and racked up unprecedented credit-card debt, which now stands at a record $1.13 trillion.

As consumers buy fewer non-essentials and focus on things like housing, the CPI becomes less illustrative of how the typical American family is contending with inflation. Whereas the annual CPI increase peaked around 9% in June 2022, the alternative measure reached nearly 12%—and a third faster, in June 2022. In January, the Common Man CPI rose almost a tenth faster than headline CPI.

Additionally, because it relies on rent prices to impute an estimate for the cost of homeownership, the CPI has been underestimating the true increase in shelter prices. Data on home prices and interest rates indicate the cost of homeownership is up 80% since January 2021, not 20% as implied by the CPI.

That helps explain why so many Americans are dissatisfied with the economy today: Prices for the things they’re actually buying have risen—and continue to—considerably faster than common metrics report. This also means that real inflation-adjusted earnings have fallen more than the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s official 4.2% decline since January 2021.

It’s true that not everyone is feeling the pain of Bidenomics. Many high-income earners who in 2021 already held assets like equities or housing saw their portfolios rise considerably. These people are also more likely to have incomes that adjust faster to inflation—and real earnings that tend to decline less than average, if at all.

Those on the rest of the income ladder aren’t as well-positioned. Many of them see much slower pay increases amid rising prices. This is especially true for those on fixed incomes, which are adjusted for inflation only once a year, at best.

If the White House wants to understand why the public isn’t getting on board with the president’s program, it’s because they’re looking at and living with different economic realities.

Originally published on Fox Business


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