Poor Marcia Fudge.
The secretary of Housing and Urban Development — or maybe her social-media manager — decided to make the simple observation that, unlike many other countries, the U.S.’s economy is now stronger than it was before the pandemic.
The tweet triggered a firestorm of reactions, with many pointing to a major pandemic that’s killed some 838,000 Americans, and others noting that the wealthiest Americans have been the main beneficiaries in the past few years.
Here’s a sampling of the reaction.
Fudge herself replied to say, hey, we feel your pain.
But first, a review of the numbers. Yes, the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product, has reached new heights. In the third quarter, real GDP was a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $19.48 trillion. In the fourth quarter of 2019, it was $19.2 trillion. And, remember, real GDP means it’s reduced to account for inflation.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. have not achieved that feat, according to data from FactSet Research. (China’s GDP has topped the pre-pandemic peak, though the typical household there is much poorer than Western rivals.)
More than that, you can also make the case that the typical American has also recovered, if not by a huge amount.
The Census Department hasn’t yet published its latest estimate of median household income — it comes out once a year — but estimates can be derived, using more timely data on inflation, wages and income. The blog Political Calculations, for instance, estimates that median household income in November was $72,353, slightly above the previous inflation-adjusted peak of $72,079.
Other measures also have shown improvement. The unemployment rate of 3.9% in December, for instance, is down from a recession high of 14.7%, and within striking distance of the pre-pandemic low of 3.5%. The employment-to-population ratio of 59.5% still has a ways to catch the pre-pandemic peak of 61.2%, but it’s up considerably from the depths at 51.3%. Wages for the lower end of the spectrum have been accelerating.
Inflation, however, has weighed on consumer sentiment. In November, consumer prices were up 6.9% over the prior 12 months, the highest in decades, and data set for release on Wednesday could show that number rising to 7%.
One last number: Gallup puts the approval rating of Fudge’s boss, President Joe Biden, at 43% last month, just a point above his presidency’s low of 42%.