Obama tries an old Ronald Reagan touch on the economy
US President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Committee's Womens Leadership Forum Issues Conference at a hotel in Washington, DC on September 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama waves to the audience at the Democratic National Committee's Womens Leadership Forum Issues Conference in Washington, DC, on September 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Committee's Womens Leadership Forum Issues Conference in Washington, DC, on September 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Jason Lange and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, stumping for the Democrats ahead of November's congressional elections, has twice invoked Ronald Reagan's seminal campaign question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Framing the debate like that helped Reagan twice - in 1980 when he beat incumbent Jimmy Carter, and then again in 1984 when he won re-election during an economic upswing.
But a similar message has failed to resonate for Obama primarily for one reason: while he stresses the economy has improved in almost every aspect on his watch, average family incomes have slipped.
Between 2009 when Obama took office and 2013, the latest for which numbers are available, median annual household incomes fell by more than $2,100 in inflation-adjusted terms, Census Bureau data showed last week. (Full Story)
"It's hard to make the case for 'Morning again in America' the way that Ronald Reagan was able to do in 1984," said John Ullyot, a former Senate Republican aide, now with a strategy firm High Lantern Group.
"People just don't feel connected to the recovery."
White House economists have pointed out that the census figures do not reflect job growth and the rise in average hourly earnings seen this year, but any improvements have yet to register with the public.
Opinion polls make disturbing reading for the Democratic Party, which will have a tough time defending its slim Senate majority in the Nov. 4 election.
Roughly two-thirds of the population thinks the economy is heading in the wrong direction, survey data from polling firm Ipsos has consistently shown over the last two years.
About four in 10 Americans also strongly disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy and less than one in 10 feel he is doing a really good job. The president's own overall approval rating is stuck at around 40 percent.
Frustrated by the public's failure to give this administration credit for leading the world's biggest economy out of its worst recession since the 1930s, Obama and his team have gone to lengths to change that.
While crisscrossing the country in the past months to drum up support for the Democrats, Obama on at least nine occasions stressed how almost all economic gauges have improved during his presidency.
RECOVERY AND WAGE CHALLENGE
For one, the recovery from the 2007-2009 recession is the slowest since World War Two, but it has already extended beyond the post-war average of 58 months and there seems to be more gas in the tank. The International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. economy to grow 3 percent next year and in 2016.
On Obama's watch, 5.1 million jobs have also been added to payrolls, the S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index is up about 17 percent and the S&P 500 stock index has more than doubled while hitting all-time records.
"By almost every economic measure, we are better off today than we were when I took office," Obama told a Democratic women's forum in Washington on Friday, repeating the familiar refrain.
He frequently chastises the media for underplaying news that U.S. factories, oil fields and the stock market are booming and businesses are hiring.
"You wouldn't always know it from watching the news," he told a Labor Day picnic in Milwaukee on Sept 1.
Two days later, the White House arranged a special briefing for reporters with the president's top economic advisers, who walked through 17 charts showing the economy on the rise.
Yet near the end, when asked what indicators had failed to bounce back, Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers acknowledged that stagnant incomes remained a worry.
"Wages remain one of the most fundamental economic challenges we have," Furman said.
Many economists point out that stagnant wages are a problem that long predates this presidency. In fact, many believe that by the time incomes peaked in 1999 the United States was already slipping into a less dynamic era, grappling like other developed economies with aging and other structural impediments.
"There are big structural forces at work here. That's not necessarily a policy error in the last few years," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.
Even as Obama touts his economic accomplishments, he acknowledges more needs to be done to boost worker earnings.
"That's not the simplest of messages," said Jared Bernstein, who was chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden between 2009 and 2011. "It's saying, 'We're moving in the right direction, but we're not there yet.'"
The problem is that not all economic indicators were created equal and not much else matters for the public if the money remains tight.
"I can't imagine people feel particularly elated when they're told GDP was up 4 percent last quarter, but median income was flat last year," Bernstein said.
Previously on AOL.com:
President Obama Turns 53
Obama tries an old Ronald Reagan touch on the economy
A baby lands a stiff-arm on President Obama's chin while he was on vacation in Hawaii over Christmas 2013. The photo was posted to Twitter by official White House photographer Pete Souza.
Above is a photo of Barack Obama (left), with his mother, his adoptive father, and his half-sister Maya, circa 1971.
The President stands next to his mother at his High School graduation.
A young Barack sits with his mother and little sister Maya.
Barack and his mother during his high school years.
The President poses for a picture in front of a bridge.
A young Barack Obama strikes a pose in a leather jacket.
The President and First Lady on their wedding day back in 1992.
President Obama shows off his serious side.
President Obama utilizes the chalkboard to help explain the basics of power analysis.
The President stands in a shirt and tie.
Matt Drudge's go-to photo anytime there's a negative story about you.
US President Barack Obama winks as he tells a joke about his place of birth during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington, DC, April 28, 2012. The annual event, which brings together US President Barack Obama, Hollywood celebrities, news media personalities and Washington correspondents, features comedian Jimmy Kimmel as the host. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama share a private moment in a freight elevator at an Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009.
The President and First Lady celebrate Halloween, while Chewbacca and a Storm Trooper stand in the background.
President Obama cradles a baby.
The President lends a helping hand to this cute kid.
The President takes a stroll around the Oval Office with a little girl.
President Obama plays peek-a-boo with a child.
June 14, 2013: "The President had invited departing staff member Adam Neufeld to the Oval Office for a farewell photograph. When the President picked up Neufeld's six-month-old daughter, she started grabbing his face." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Happy Father's Day!
Barack Obama shoots the ball while playing as a guard for the state champion Punahou School basketball team, Hawaii, 1979. (Photo by Laura S. L. Kong/Getty Images)
The President meets with the L.A. Galaxy and shows soccer superstar Landon Donovan (right) some of his skills.
The President shows of his athletic side on the football field.
The President shows Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James, center, his jump shot form.
President Obama loosens up his legs on the golf course.
The President fills out his 2014 March Madness bracket for ESPN.
U.S. President Barack Obama talked about his increase of gray hair while delivering remarks during the official unveiling of former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush's official portraits in the East Room of the White House May 31, 2012 in Washington, DC. Commissioned by the White House Historical Association, the portraits will hang in the White House next to portraits of the other past presidents. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The wounded lip of U.S. President Barack Obama is seen as he speaks to the press after meeting with bi-partisan Congressional leadership in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building November 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. Obama hurt his lip while playing basketball and required stiches. After the first formal meeting since the mid-term elections, Obama spoke about taxes, the START treaty and finding common ground with Republicans. (Photo by Olivier Doulier-Pool/Getty Images)
President Obama poses as himself in a carnival cutout.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama drink Guinness beer as they meet with local residents at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall, Ireland, the ancestral homeland of his great-great-great grandfather, Monday, May 23.
President Barack Obama was in Decatur, Ga., to promote his education agenda and stopped in at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center
US President Barack Obama (R) plays with a Hoberman Sphere as he talks with 12-year-old Peyton Robertson, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, during the White House Science Fair at the White House in Washington, DC, May 27, 2014. The White House Science Fair celebrates the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The President gets animated as he reads 'Where the Wild Things Are.'
The President makes a guest appearance on ABC's 'The View.'
The President and First Lady ride in the inaugural parade in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013.
Sept. 19, 2013: "I loved the look Alanah Poullard's face as the President wrote a school excuse note for the five-year-old, while visiting with Wounded Warriors and their families in the East Room during their tour of the White House. Alanah asked for a note to show her kindergarten teacher so she wouldn't get in trouble for missing a school day." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama runs down the East Colonnade with family dog, Bo, on the dog's initial visit to the White House. Bo came back to live at the White House in April. March 15, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 14, 2013: "The President called me over to pose for a photo with a young boy who had fallen asleep during the Father's Day ice cream social in the State Dining Room of the White House." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
-- AFP PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2013 --
US President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a selfie picture with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt (C) next to US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013. Mandela, the revered icon of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and one of the towering political figures of the 20th century, died in Johannesburg on December 5 at age 95. AFP PHOTO / ROBERTO SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
The President with Michelle, Sasha, left, and Malia, right, in 2004).