- - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ronald Reagan’s famous question that sank Jimmy Carter in 1980 — “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” — could be reprised to measure the performance of Barack Obama and the Democrats. The latest figures from the Census Bureau and Federal Reserve suggest the answer would be an emphatic “no.”

In 2008, Mr. Obama’s message of hope and change resonated with the promise of “policies that invest in our middle-class, create new jobs, and grow this economy from the bottom up so that everyone has a chance to succeed.” Audiences cheered, but now with the knowledge from experience, the question becomes, has that investment paid off?

A new Federal Reserve study finds the median net worth of families last year fell to its lowest level since 1992, after adjusting for inflation. For most families, this means that the work of two decades of economic struggle has vanished. The dollar figure on the paycheck is higher, but dollars don’t buy nearly as much as they did.

By this measure, the presiding generation is less well-off than the one that preceded it. This is not a surprise to parents who find their dreams of peace in an “empty nest” dashed when their children return from college, unable to find jobs.

Stimulus and “investment” were supposed to reinvigorate the economy. Government spending would create jobs and rescue Americans from the grim clutch of poverty. Census Bureau statistics released Tuesday show 45.3 million Americans living below the poverty level as measured by the government. That’s almost 10 million more living in poverty than in 1992.

While the population is larger, the poverty rate is identical — 14.5 percent. It’s as likely that someone is poor today as in 1992, or in 1962. Mr. Obama’s economic policies have achieved nothing, but worse, the entire 50-year Democratic “war on poverty” has made no discernible impact on poverty.

The cost of 83 overlapping federal anti-poverty programs has grown 32 percent since Mr. Obama took office, by the reckoning of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. Spending on federal welfare programs now exceeds $1 trillion per year — every penny of which is borrowed.

Borrowing mortgages the prosperity of future generations, but the spending hasn’t reduced poverty, hasn’t created jobs and hasn’t made life easier for the middle class. With a national debt of $17.8 trillion, each household owes $154,000.

Mr. Reagan had a few more questions for the country at the end of his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter: “Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?”

The economic “malaise,” as Mr. Carter called it, the abandonment of traditional values and the incoherence of America’s foreign policy are all related, sapping the famous American can-do spirit. The latest Gallup survey finds that 76 percent of Americans now think the nation is headed in the wrong direction. The nation is finally recognizing the scope of the wreckage, and realizing that there’s a lot of repairing to do.

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