Sometimes we ask questions knowing what the answer will be. I go through this daily when I ask my seven-year-old daughter if she's brushed her hair yet. Her tangled mane tells the story. My question is really just to remind her of what clearly needs to be done.
Republicans are similarly asking Americans the traditional campaign question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Women—who Democrats are trying to distract with the specter of a "war on women"—should consider this important question, and what it says about the policies that have been advanced during the past four years.
Really, the answer to that question is an obvious no. The country isn't better off, and most Americans aren't better off as a result of the past four years. Americans know this intuitively, and can see evidence of continued hardship in the stories of their friends, neighbors, and own families.
National statistics confirm their experience.
President Barack Obama may be trying to paint a rosy picture of stopping the hemorrhaging of jobs, but the numbers paint a sobering story. In January 2009, when President Obama took office, 140 million Americans were working. As of July 2012, the number of working Americans had ticked up 3 million. Yet during that time period 5.5 million Americans left the labor force and 400,000 more Americans become unemployed. As a result, we have a historically low labor force participation rate: That means not only is the unemployment rate stubbornly high, but millions of Americans have become so gloomy about their economic prospects they aren't bothering to look for work anymore. That's a far cry from morning in America.
Rather than recovering, household incomes have continued to decline. The Washington Post reports that between "June 2009 to June 2012, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 4.8 percent, to $50,964 … Incomes have dropped more since the beginning of the recovery than they did during the recession itself."
While Americans have less to live on, the costs of everyday goods are climbing. When President Obama took office, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline was less than two dollars. Today, it's $3.82. Food prices have also been on the rise, increasing by 3.7 percent in 2011. The Department of Agriculture expects another 2.5 to 3.5 percent increase in 2012, and another 3 to 4 percent increase in 2013. This is bad news for millions of American families who already feel pinched.
While American families struggle to make ends meet, the federal government isn't even trying to. The national debt just passed $16 trillion, a mindboggling number. That's about $5.4 trillion more than when President Obama took office. That means that today every American man, woman, and child's share of the debt is $50,000, and Americans can expect this burden to get worse. President Obama's budget would continue piling trillions of dollars onto the national debt.
Aware of these pesky facts, the president's supporters are struggling to find an acceptable answer to the are-you-better-off question. So far, the talking point seems to be that the challenges President Obama faced when taking office were much greater than anyone knew. Americans, therefore, should simply be grateful to not yet be fully into the abyss.
Americans are unlikely to accept this line. Americans expected to recover from hard times. We aren't satisfied with the idea of this level of unemployment and the growing dependency on government—with people exiting the labor force and joining the rolls receiving food stamps and disability checks from Uncle Sam—to become a new normal. We don't want to accept the idea that our children's future will be less bright than generations past.
More importantly, many Americans don't just intuitively know that our country is worse off, but they also suspect they know why it's worse off: Government has grown too much and is strangling what used to be private life, making it impossible for the innovators and job creators to make America thrive again.
Americans understand that the administration's policies have helped make them worse off. That's the real problem for the president as he tries to convince the American people that he deserves a second term.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women's Forum, and a co-author of Liberty Is No War on Women, published by the Independent Women's Forum.