Joe Biden not long ago was eager to take credit for America's soaring stock markets.
"The stock market has gone up exponentially since I've been president," Biden said in September. "You haven't heard me say a word about it."
Well, actually, Mr. President, you said 20 words about it. But let's not quibble over hollow boasts of the fading past. Biden and the rest of us have more important – and more painful – things to worry about now.
So far in 2022, Americans have suffered through the highest inflation rate in 40 years, the highest gas prices on record and the worst start of the year for the S&P 500 since 1939.
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Oh, my aching 401(k).
Now, those Americans who think Biden is doing a good job of handling the economy – both of them – have a ready-made retort: But Trump.
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And while that comeback may still work at times, it's laughably ineffective with the economy. In August 2020, when pandemic shutdowns had sent unemployment soaring above 10%, half of Americans still said they approved of how President Donald Trump was handling the economy.
Nearly two years later, only 34% of Americans in a recent CNN poll said they approved of how Biden is managing the economy; two-thirds said he's doing a poor job of leading on an issue that directly affects every American.
Even within his own party, Biden isn't faring well – fewer than half of Democrats said he has improved the nation's economic standing. That's a brutal number in these days of tribal politics when partisans are apt to excuse all sorts of errors in judgment and execution.
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But ordinary Americans' dissatisfaction with Biden isn't surprising given the pain that inflation is inflicting on people from Seaside to Seattle.
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How bad is it? Workers suffered on average a 2.4% pay cut last year when adjusted for inflation, despite significant wage increases in many sectors.
There's also little comfort in comfort food these days. The price of eggs is up 13%. Poultry prices are forecast to climb at least 7.5% this year. And the increase in beer prices is expected to be "off the charts." (So much for drowning our sorrows.)
Faced with the steady downpour of bad economic news, Biden and his apologists have tried to argue that it's all temporary, to blame it on Russia's Vladimir Putin, and to declare that Americans just don't understand how good they really have it.
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But Larry Summers, who led the National Economic Council in the Obama administration, explained it to NPR in terms that even progressives should understand: "More unemployment is the difference between a job and not a job for 2 or 3% of the population. More inflation is higher prices for 100% of the population."
And that's the bottom line: On Joe Biden's watch, the inflation tiger was let out of its cage after 40 years. He owns it.
The president can argue that it's not really his fault. He can say it will pass in time (which is true; everything in this world is temporary if you wait long enough). Or he can blame it on the evil dictator in Moscow, the dunderheaded Republicans in Congress and the obstinate gentleman from West Virginia who wouldn't get on board with spending an additional $2 trillion.
But none of that really flies with the mother in Topeka or the father in Tallahassee who knows it's getting a bit harder every month to feed the kids and to pay the mortgage.
Misery mounts for millions of Americans
Like Biden, I'm old enough to remember when Americans were well acquainted with the Misery Index, a combination of the inflation and unemployment rates. In 1980, when Biden was still a young senator from Delaware, the Misery Index hit 19.7%, the highest level of pain since 1946. That same year, a first-term Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, lost reelection.
The Misery Index was back in the news this week as it hit a 12-year high. That's not to say Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter. At least not yet.
It does, however, help to explain why Americans feel so bearish about their president in our springtime of discontent.
The misery is real. Americans are hurting. And Biden has bungled one of the most important jobs he was elected to do.
Tim Swarens is deputy opinion editor of USA TODAY.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Worse than Trump: How bad is Biden's handling of the economy?