Barack Obama paraphrases Ronald Reagan’s famous question: “Are you better off than you were four or eight years ago?”
Now personally, I’d say I’m much better off than I was as an awkward nineteen year-old college sophomore. On the other hand, I’m not sure that I’d give George W. Bush a ton of credit for that. Which is what’s a bit odd about this question — I’m not sure how tightly linked people’s overall well-being really is to average economic trends. And at the same time the biggest victims of Bush’s policies are the ones who are dead and thus don’t have the chance to complain about it. A lot of people who were working eight years ago are retired today. And a lot of people who are working today were kids eight years ago. Many others have children today who they didn’t have eight years ago. Or maybe eight years ago they were happily married and now they’re divorced.
But even sticking to the strictly economic, we know that any given individual’s wages tend to go up over the course of his/her career as he/she gains experience, skills, and seniority. Thus even during a period in which average wages stagnate, most people will actually be better off than there were a few years in the past.