I've been giving some thought to what I expected would be the main campaign point this year: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Why the Romney strategists have gone away from this one key talking point is beyond me. It seems a far more personal issue for voters to consider than "who will be tougher on China?" or even "why did the President do nothing to help the embassy staff in Benghazi?" It seems to be a winner for Romney when you consider the latest Marquette Law School poll shows 50% of Wisconsin respondents are saying "NO".
Because I'm a "numbers guy" and like tracking my personal finances, it's pretty easy to figure out if my wife and I are doing better or not. I can tell you that my salary has not increased during the last four years. What's more, staff cuts caused by poor corporate performance mean I'm having to work more hours--effectively reducing my per/hour income. Fortunately, my wife has seen her pay rate increase by three percent over the last four years--so we haven't been completely stuck in terms of personal income.
Of course, prices haven't stayed in place the last four years. We are paying twice as much for gas. About 12% more for food and other necessities. Our utitily expenses are up just over 5%. My wife's health insurance premiums are up 13%--while mine actually went down--because we can now opt into a High Deductible/Health Savings Account plan. The HSA now gets to count as an "asset"--rather than premiums just being written off as an "expense".
Our personal wealth is virtually unchanged (however a big change is on the way--more on that in the near future). Our retirement investments are finally back to the values they held four years ago. The only growth over this period has been our continuing contributions. In refinancing our house last year, we found out that we had lost about 8% of our assessed value--and based on some of the sales figures I've seen recently, we likely haven't gotten that value back yet. And let's not forget, that we are still getting less than 1% interest on our savings--so that irresponsible borrowers can barely stay afloat.
The 4% reduction in Federal with-holdings from our paychecks is not due to a decrease in personal income taxes--but rather less being taken out for Social Security. Which brings up another issue: I am no more confident that SSI or MediCare will be available in 25 years from now when I am eligible for those programs. Fortunately, my wife and I are planning our retirement under that assumption--and will be financially able to support ourselves for decades after we stop working.
With my health insurance carrier now required to cover more high-risk people, I expect that cost will increase substantially in the future--and knowing the executives in charge in Atlanta--we will be one of the first companies to drop the benefit and just pay the ObamaCare fee--I mean "tax". And being someone who lives a debt-free lifestyle--and believing that overspending today only limits your ability to be successful in the future--the doubling of the national debt the last four years gives me far less confidence in the direction of our country.
So if someone was to ask me--and they should be--"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" I can definitely say "NO".