Every week is a difficult week for this White House right now. But as the President Joe Biden of the United States recovers from his recent infection Covid-19, he faces a new moment of truth this week about an economy that is stuck in an identity crisis and buffeted by unpredictable outside forces. At any other time, a President presiding over a 3.6% unemployment rate—a shining number that normally would suggest a healthy economy—would expect his approval rating to be around 50% and be cruising to a second term. But since US inflation rate has raced to 40-year highs on the back of raging demand and Covid-compromised supply chains, exacerbated by a spike in oil prices, Biden’s job performance rating has slumped into the 30s (and is even lower among independent voters) and Democrats are bracing for big losses in midterm elections in November.
The U.S. economy has shown some signs of slowing down this year, especially when it comes to inflation and the cost of living. Inflation, or a rise in the general level of prices for goods and services, is seen as a sign that an economy is growing too fast and becoming overheated, which can lead to higher interest rates to cool things down. But at least one big event this week may be bad news for the party in power in Washington heading into an election: The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again in an attempt to tame inflation, though some experts think the Fed’s new aggressive strategy came too late and risks tipping the economy into a recession.
In the event that Jerome Powell says that the Federal Reserve will curtail historically high inflation rates, the American people believe him and act accordingly. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Fed’s version of The Secret.
The Federal Reserve is constantly evolving, and it can make mistakes. The institution that aims to project an aura of stability isn’t beyond surprising us. Meanwhile, amid all the focus on inflation’s erosion of the strength of US paychecks, it’s been 13 years since the last time the US federal minimum wage was raised, making it the longest period without a raise since the federal minimum wage was enacted in 1938. About 30 states and Washington, DC, have minimum wages above the federal standard.
Only 18% of Americans in this CNN poll described the economy of the country as in good shape; however, 82% stated that economy conditions were bad.
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index will be released Tuesday, after last month’s report showed souring confidence in the face of high gas and food prices and rising recession risks. The White House seized on a more recent dip in gas prices, while complaining that the tumbling price was not being covered by the media with the same intensity that accompanied the hike in prices. But public perceptions of the economy aren’t likely to change that fast. Even if this week’s data suggest that the economy isn’t heading for a recession, it will still be a hard sell for the White House. Any president arguing that the economy isn’t really as bad as it feels to voters is in trouble.