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What a difference a coordinating conjunction can make!

You remember coordinating conjunctions, don’t you? They’re the little words that “join two verbs, two nouns, two adjectives, two phrases, or two independent clauses.” In English, for those of you who cut or snoozed in your “parts of speech” classes, they’re “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or”, “yet”, and “so”.  (Here‘s the source.)

I bring them up because an Associated Press (AP) article today just illustrated how important they can be, and in the process, added to the burgeoning mass of spoken and published material lately making clear how completely many of the usual suspects in America’s chattering classes have forgotten the fundamental purpose of the national economy and economic policymaking.

It isn’t to generate more growth, more jobs, more spending, or any other specific great performance metrics. (See, e.g., here and here.) Instead, the fundamental purpose is to help improve people’s lives. Better numbers on the above fronts and others obviously can help achieve this goal. But they’re no guarantee.

That’s why the header on the piece used the wrong conjunction. It shouldn’t be “AP-NORC Poll: Income is up, but Americans focus on inflation” – which at least to me connoted, “Why are those Americans accentuating the negative?”

Much better would have been “AP-NORC Poll: Income is up, and Americans focus on inflation.” Because the results of the survey itself are sending the exact same message as the most important figures from an individual or family perspective: Prices this year have been rising faster than wages, which means that despite all the encouraging data nowadays, the typical American is falling behind economically, not getting ahead.

To cite just a few examples from the poll:

>”Two-thirds [of respondents] say their household costs have risen since the pandemic, compared with only about a quarter who say their incomes have increased….Half say their incomes have stayed the same. Roughly a quarter report that their incomes have dropped.”

>”Most people say the sharply higher prices for goods and services in recent months have had at least a minor effect on their financial lives, including about 4 in 10 who say the hit has been substantial. The poll confirms that the burden has been especially hard on low-income households.”

>”U.S. households, on average, are earning higher incomes than they did before the pandemic. Wages and salaries grew 4.2% in September compared with a year earlier, the largest annual increase in two decades of records.”  But as RealityChek readers know, the cost of living in September rose by 4.4 percent on year according to the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, and by 5.4 percent according to the more widely followed Consumer Price Index.

>Similarly, government stimulus checks and other supports “combined with higher paychecks, lifted Americans’ overall household incomes by 5.9% in October compared with a year earlier. Yet inflation jumped to 6.2% that month, the highest reading in three decades, negating the income gain.” (And then some!)

When he first ran for the presidency in 1992, Bill Clinton touted the importance of “Putting People First” as the lodestar for economic policy. As the AP article indicates, that’s advice that urgently needs learning or re-learning by the numerous reporters and commentators puzzled by why Americans are less impressed with the current supposed economic boom than with their falling living standards.