Bidenomics Puts Business, Not Workers, First

Before the war in Gaza — before Joe Biden sank his reputation by enabling Israeli brutality — there was a debate about something called “Bidenomics.” Despite everything that’s upstaged it, it’s still worth a look.

Bidenomics never got much love. Interest peaked in July, according to Google Trends, and is down three-quarters since. It probably would be hard to find someone who could define it. For the Right, it’s practically Bolshevism. The president himself defines it as “building the economy from the middle out and bottom up — not the top down.” It rests, as things so often do, on three pillars: “First, making smart investments in America. Second, educating and empowering American workers to grow the middle class. And third, promoting competition to lower costs and help small businesses.”

How’s all that stand up to reality?

By the conventional indicators, especially measures of the labor market, the economy is strong, though perhaps a little past its peak. Reported evaluations are far less sunny than the official stats, however. Most people tell pollsters the economy stinks.

After extraordinary rates of growth in 2021 and 2022 as the economy recovered from the COVID shock, job growth is now slightly below its long-term average. The unemployment rate in October was 3.9 percent, very low by historical standards, though up 0.4 from April’s trough (which was the lowest rate since 1969). That’s the official rate, aka U-3, which has a fairly restrictive definition of unemployment. By the broader measure, U-6, which captures more people at the margins of the labor force, it was 7.2 percent. That’s up from December’s 2022 low of 6.5 percent, which was the lowest in that measure’s history.

Workers look strong in the labor market — the official count of unfilled job openings, a measure of employer frustration, though off its highs of spring 2022, is still high by historical standards, and similar could be said of the quit rate, a measure of worker confidence. Here too it looks like the worker’s labor market power has peaked but isn’t collapsing.

Add to this big union victories, from riveters to writers, and the US working class looks to be in its best shape in decades — which isn’t saying much given the standards of our history, but still, it’s better than nothing. Strike activity, which was more discursive than actual over the last couple of years, is finally showing

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