The Washington Post

The economy is showing signs of improvement. So why aren’t Democrats talking about it?

President Obama speaks at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Today, President Obama will be in Denver, talking about improvements in the economic picture and his work toward making them happen. The unemployment rate is at 6.1 percent, and the United States has added 1.4 million new jobs since the beginning of 2014.

Despite Obama's intentions of spreading the good news, though, Colorado's top Democratic officials are staying away from the speech. And few Democratic candidates in close elections around the country are citing economic gains as a reason to elect them. Instead, the party continues to advance its agenda as the best way to fix a still-struggling economy.

Why the disconnect? Well, despite the sunnier jobs picture and some indications of the economy's upswing, most Americans haven't felt much of a change yet.

Gallup's economic confidence index -- which measures whether Americans think the economy is improving or getting worse, along with their current perception of the economy -- remains double-digits negative, right about where it was at the start of 2014. Only one in five Americans think the economy is excellent or good. The Fannie Mae National Housing Survey, released this week, found that 54 percent of Americans think the economy is on the wrong track.

More than 40 percent of the jobs created in the past year have been in food service, retail and temporary help, according to the Wall Street Journal. These sectors of the economy typically have the lowest wages. In other words, the decreasing unemployment number doesn't do a great job of capturing the quality of the new employment.

The unemployment number can also mask how many people are among the long-term unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates long-term joblessness is dropping -- but this figure only counts the number of unemployed people looking for work. Those who find jobs often can't keep them. And if you give up looking for work, you drop off the list the same way as a newly employed person would. However, erasure from the job market still entitles people to have opinions on the economy -- and they probably aren't feeling too good about it.

In addition, wages have stagnated for many workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The wage growth has been worst for Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder. Only those in the 95th percentile of earners have seen their wages grow noticeably.

Those who have seen wages grow over the past few decades-- and are likely among those applauding the economy's return this month -- are already probably not the swing or casual voters Democrats are looking for.

In the states with the closest -- or at least closely watched -- Senate races, the disconnect between the new jobs numbers and reality on the ground could be particularly acute. The unemployment numbers in Louisiana and North Carolina are lower than the national average. Arkansas's and Georgia's have dropped considerably. However, these states also have among the lowest median incomes in the country. The jobs may be coming back to these states, but it's questionable whether residents should be celebrating yet -- which is why Democrats in these states aren't celebrating either. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) told Reuters in May, "It's not going to change anything about my campaign. I'm going to continue to run hard and not take anything for granted."

The unemployment rate is also still high for many demographics traditionally seen as reliably Democratic. The black unemployment rate is 10.7 percent. The Hispanic unemployment rate is 7.8 percent. The unemployment rate for young people ages 20 to 24 is 11.3 percent. The constituents that Democratic politicians would most like to turn out this November won't respond well to a campaign touting economic successes which they are seeing little of.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is running against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall -- one of the Colorado politicians who won't be attending Obama's speech today -- has brought up the disconnect in the data on the campaign trail: “People are working harder, but they are being left behind. Not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer.” Other Republicans are sure to continue focusing on the state of the economy, regardless of the gains. The fact is that the last six years have been very tough, and it takes more than a relatively brief succession of good jobs reports to change that long-term narrative.

Democrats, on the other hand, are likely to continue looking forward to how they can improve the economy instead of running on what's already been done. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from April showed that those who make less than $50,000 annually still trust Democrats more on the economy, even if they may not see much change quite yet.

That's the number Democrats up for election will focus on. They'll leave the bragging to the guy who's officially retired from the campaign trail -- at least for himself.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says ...
This was supposed to be the strongest Republican presidential field in memory, but cracks are showing. At Saturday night's debate, Marco Rubio withered in the face of unyielding attacks from Chris Christie, drawing attention to the biggest question about his candidacy: Is he ready to be president? How much the debate will affect Rubio's standing Tuesday is anybody's guess. But even if he does well, the question about his readiness to serve as president and to go up against Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, will linger.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.