The debate Tuesday night set in Charleston, South Carolina was a complete and utter mess. The moderators seem to lose control of the candidates, their questions were essentially the same as they have been since the beginning, and a large portion of it was dedicated to red-baiting Senator Bernie Sanders.
There’s a lot to talk about, but the question that kickstarted the debate will be our focus today. In my opinion, it was asinine and only highlights how little mainstream media figures understand about the American people and the challenges they face.
The Debate Starts With The Dumbest Pro-Trump Question Imaginable
Norah O’Donnell began the debate by asking Bernie Sanders the most surface-level, tone-deaf question imaginable. She said:
“Senator Sanders, we haven’t had a national unemployment rate this low for this long in fifty years. Here in South Carolina, the unemployment rate is even lower. How will you convince voters that a Democratic Socialist can do better than President Trump with the economy?”
You can watch the question below:
Now, if the economy were actually doing well, this may be a fair point. But, as has been repeatedly shown (and even said on mainstream media), the current measurements for economic success to do not reflect the quality of life for most Americans.
How do we know this? Well, we only have to compare and contrast economic data. The stock market took a recent hit a few days ago over concerns of coronavirus, but until then they were sitting at record highs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we are seeing record low unemployment rates. Lastly, there was a mild amount of wage growth last year, particularly for production and service industry labor.
All of that sounds good, right? How could the economy be doing poorly?
America’s Favorite Casino: The Stock Market
This is the go to for President Trump and essentially every conservative (including conservative Democrats) who push against progressive policies. The stock market is doing well! Surely that means we are doing something right!
The problem with that logic is simple. The stock market is not reflective of the economy. End of story. The stock market is simply a financial casino, where people buy and exchange partial ownership of companies based on their own predictions of where those companies are going.
Jessica Schieder from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, had this to say:
The stock market is where people make bets on what’s going to happen in the economy…The richest Americans hold the lion’s share of the value in the stock market despite the fact that about half of households own some stock…That means that the stock market and stock prices can be disproportionately influenced by a much smaller subset of the population and disproportionately influenced by the fortunes and alternative investment options of that smaller slice.”Jessica Schieder – From Marketplace.org
Essentially, the stock market is where rich people go to bet against their friends. It is in no way reflective of the quality of average Americans’ lives. That’s why the value of individual stocks fluctuate based on things as ridiculous as Donald Trump’s tweets.
Essentially, the stock market isn’t real, and basing any meaningful economic growth on it is laughable.
The Unemployment Rate, And What The Number Really Is
On the surface, the unemployment rate looks really impressive. This is especially true when you look at black unemployment. Though, it’s worth noting its been on the decline for a decade.
However, the the official unemployment rate is only part of the story. The official unemployment rate is called the U-3, and it only counts the labor force (i.e. people who are actively pursuing work). That means, if you are not actively seeking a job after twelve months, you are no longer considered part of the official U-3 unemployment rate.
The real unemployment rate is called U-6, which factors discouraged workers (those no longer seeking work), as well as workers who are underemployed. The official U-3 unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, while the U-6 stands at 6.9 percent.
While both numbers have fallen over the years, that is still nearly seven percent of the population (over 22 million people) who are unemployed or under-employed.
In essence, the U-3 rate glosses over major aspects of the economic conditions for the disenfranchised workers of the nation. And even though the numbers are improving, we are still facing a real crisis of underemployment for millions of workers.
Wage Growth Over The Years Has Actually Declined
Discussing wage growth over the years is a complicated issue because it involves so many factors. Inflation and cost of living go up every year, and there is usually some adjustment to accommodate that increase. However, real wage growth has been on the decline since the 1960s, and has only gotten worse over the years.
This is true despite record high stocks and year over year growth for companies.
Let’s look at wage growth for a moment, according to the Economic Policy Institute, while wages have been growing since the recession, they have by no means fully recovered. Wages aren’t growing at the desired rate of 3.5%, and workers have less corporate-sector income than they did prior to the crash.
This means that the overwhelming majority of wage growth has actually gone to the very wealthy. This is supported by the Congressional Research Service’s report on real wage trends. On page 9 of the report, a chart indicates that wages for 90th percentile (or top ten percent) increased by 36.7 percent. Compare that to the meager gains in the 50th and 10th percentile, 6.1 percent and 1.6 percent respectively. In some demographics, such as with Hispanics, real wages have actually decreased.
However, wage growth is only part of the equation. Next, you have to understand purchasing power.
While wages have grown on average at 6.1 percent since 1978, the cost of living has dramatically increased in nearly every aspect of life in the same time period. Rent alone has risen by 64 percent when adjusted for inflation since 1960. The cost of tuition at major universities has increased by 25 percent in the last ten years alone.
All of this leads to purchasing power that has entirely stagnated, if not fallen for some workers. Capitalism is based on year over year growth for everyone, not just corporations. If the purchasing power of workers is not increasing year over year (as it was prior to 1978), then the economy is not really improving in a sustainable way.
Bernie Handled The Question Well
Luckily, when confronted with this absurdly ill-informed question, Bernie was well-prepared. He cited similar statistics and reminded the audience that an economy doing well for billionaires is not always working well for the American people.
Still, until the mainstream media has a real awakening to the plight of Americans, we will continue to see dumb questions like this during the debate.
There were plenty of horrible takes from the South Carolina debate. However, being even halfway informed on some of these issues can help one sludge through the mire and find the truth in all the lies.