Are You Better Off Than You Were 4 Years Ago?

Aaron AvatarOkay, okay – here is our first and LAST Presidential Election post for you. And, you can take that promise to the bank! We aren't here to tell you who to vote for – but we'd love to offer a few things to think about when you go to the polls (not, that you asked).

The age-old question many ask every election is: “Are you better off now – than you were four years ago?” Of course, the incumbent hopes you say yes, while the challenger is hoping you're worse off – and in the market for something different. 

We aren't of the opinion that government can solve your problems. I don't think that's what it was designed for. However, whenever you listen to a debate or conversation about the election – it seems to center on the economy and what the candidates can do for it. And, many a candidate will promise less unemployment, lower taxes (or more), more jobs and cheaper gas prices. The eternal debate will remain: can they really affect that change? We'll let you decide that one.

Since we are a personal finance site – we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the four years – see where we started with the current President – and where we are now. I credit a very informative BusinessWeek article that ran the first week in October in addressing some of these statistics.

Let's just look at the cost of goods – things you and I buy everyday:

cost of goodsOf course it wouldn't be fair to say that everything has gone up. There are a few things that have actually gone down, including: appliances (-5%), utility gas (-26%), computers (-29%) and televisions (-57%). But for the mainstay products and goods – things seemed to have gone up. I'm sure you're noticing this at the grocery store.

What about income?

flat incomeYou and I can easily adjust to the cost of goods going up IF our take-home pay does the same. However, this has not been the case over the past four years. The median household income has stayed flat. When you have this going on – your standard of living goes down.

We certainly entered 2009 in some rocky territory – with a big financial crisis and recession. But, given we were at a low point – you'd think there would be only one way to go with wages: up. But, this hasn't been the case.

Are you better off?

The real question is – how are you doing today? Do you feel more financially secure? Are you happy with what you are making at work? Or, perhaps you are still looking for work and unemployed.

Kiplingers recently did a poll asking 5,570 folks the question: “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The response was surprising. 59% of those polled said they were worse off, 29% said better and 11% said about the same.

So, how would you answer this?

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  1. Regarding the median income figure – if it is only including *employed* people in the count, then the alleged “median” vastly overstates the true median – because those earning *zero* now are excluded from the analysis.

    Given the collapse in employment since 2007/08 (Google “25 to 54 employment to population ratio”) the true median has surely collapsed.

    But, as usual (look at the gamed definition of “unemployed” in this country), the government reporting the stats has cooked the books.

  2. No Actually most people are worse off due to the War prior to the election. We are still trying to clean up the mess. War what is it good for?? Absolutely nothing but economic disaster!!!! WW3 would pull us into another Depression. Forget about that.

    • @Lisa – War is no good for sure! Hope to avoid that at all costs
      @cas127 – I would agree with your assessment. But, these figures probably assume employed persons

  3. I think this is a good article, Aaron! I always love seeing your illustrations… however, despite the world as a whole being worse off – we are doing just fine and I will give a bulk of that credit to my ultra thrifty husband and a bit of luck that he is in an industry that is somewhat stable. This is Jen, by the way!:)

  4. Aaron,

    I love your articles, but am disappointed to see your thinnly veiled, one-sided presentation of the question of whether you are better off than 4 years ago.

    Do you remember where we were 4 years ago? The fall before the election the economy was in a free fall-the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The auto industry was on the verge of bankruptcy, banks on the verge of going under, home prices already dropping, and the stock market approximately half of what it is today (remember the expression 201k).

    Americans have too short of memories-the stock market has rebounded extrememly well and home prices (at least in our area) have begun to rise.

    Are we were we want to be? No. The recovery has been slow.

    How much can the President help? Some of course, but the current stagnation is probably a lot due to the European debt crisis.

    The question you pose is so biasly presented reading your article you could almost only come to one conclusion. I am not sure too how much inflation is a good indicator in this circumstance (deflation would actually mean the economy is super bad).
    Neither candidate to be honest is ideal. Romney has an impossible to balance the budget tax plan and wants to remove a lot of your deductions (aka home mortgage deduction). Romney is for a limited government (aka limited help to poor, eldery, and those out of work). He want a vocher for Medicaid (hello that is not going to cover the cost-old people get sick that is why they are expensive to insure). Obama has allowed to large of government and too many entitlements. There needs to be a more measured response and people need to work together to compromise-for our future as well as our children’s future.

  5. Awesome article Aaron. I would say no for myself. While our income is up, we have lost a lot of equity on our home and that alone would make me say we’re not better off.

    • @Sean – Thanks. You’re probably an exception with the income being up. With you on the housing. :)
      @Stephanie – Appreciate your comment. You’re right – it was a bad situation 4 years ago. Given that – you’d think we’d be much better off (having fallen so low) 4 years later, but we aren’t in many ways. I’d love to see someone – like Mr. Romney – in office to see what type of things he might be able to get done given his business background/success. We’ve never really had someone with this acumen in the WH.
      @Jen – Thanks! :) There are always exceptions! Which goes to show, I think it’s often on us to make our own path and take responsibility of our financial futures.

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