With Obamacare and aid to banks, the president helped the poorest and the richest. But there's been little for everyone in between.
If President Obama loses in November, the new numbers out showing a calamitous drop in Americans' median net worth -- we lost 20 years' worth of prosperity in the Great Recession, folks--will tell a good part of the story why. Bottom line: He lost the middle class. According to the Federal Reserve, a broad group of Americans loosely defined as the middle class saw its net worth plummet from a median of $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.
It's hardly fair to blame Obama for what began in 2007, but there's no reason why he shouldn't also be saddled for some of the blame in underestimating the severity of the crisis. Indeed, as economist Emmanuel Saez has written, the wealthiest one percent in the country have actually made out better, in percentage terms, during Obama's "recovery" of 2009-2010 than they did from 2002 to 2007 under George W. Bush.
Judging from recent polls -- my colleague Ron Brownstein parses one here -- the perception of the president is that he's spending a lot more time coddling the very poor (the uninsured) and the very rich (Wall Street) than he is the middle class. Obama spent a huge portion of his political capital on Obamacare, and almost none on helping underwater middle-class mortgage holders. Nor did he deploy, in a big way, the enormous leverage he had over Wall Street and Main Street both to induce more lending and hiring. Remember, the drop in middle-class net worth came largely because of the financial crisis, during and after which we witnessed Washington handing over hundreds of billions of dollars to sustain the mortgage-bubble-engendering financial firms that cost us all that middle-class income.