Are You Better Off than You Were Five Years Ago?

Reader Steven Kopits writes in response to Are you better off than you were four years ago?:

I donʻt think people are going to compare anything to the pandemic. Trump did not cause the pandemic, and frankly, most countries around the world suffered some sort of economic shock. I donʻt think thatʻs how voters are going to make comparisons.

They will make comparisons with 2019. The numbers are a mixed bag.

I’m not so sure… Let’s actually look at the data.

Figure 1: GDP per capita now (blue), and five years ago (tan), both in bn.Ch.2017$ SAAR. Source: BEA.

Figure 2: Consumption per capita now (blue), five years ago (tan), in 2017$ SAAR. Source: BEA.

Figure 3: Disposable personal income per capita now (blue), five years ago (tan), in 2017$ SAAR. Source: BEA.


Figure 4: Unemployment rate now (blue), four years ago (tan), in %. April observation is Bloomberg consensus. Source: BLS.

Figure 5: VIX now (blue), five years ago (tan). Source: CBOE via FRED.

Figure 6: Economic Policy Uncertainty index (blue), four years ago (tan). Source: via FRED.

Figure 7: Misery index now (blue), four years ago (tan), in %. April observation of unemployment is Bloomberg consensus, inflation is from Cleveland Fed nowcast as of 4/30/2024. Source: BLS, Cleveland Fed, and author’s calculations.

Mr. Kopits also writes:

…it looks like the median household is not materially better off than it was in 2019. A lost five years.

I believe that Mr. Kopits is visually challenged. Below I show the evolution of real median household income, with the red line now drawn from March 2019, when the index stood at 111.6.

Source: Motio Research.

So, to sum up: per capita GDP, consumption, disposable income and median household income are higher than they were five years ago. The unemployment rate is the same. The VIX and Economic Policy Uncertainty (bad things, I’d say) were higher five years ago than today. The negative is the “misery index” is 1.7 ppts higher than it was five years ago (but for certain it is now lower than it was four years ago).

Finally, Mr. Kopits shows a remarkable ignorance of terms. He writes:

Btw, property taxes and home insurance have gone up a lot since then, without any corresponding increase in tangible benefits that I can see, at least for most homeowners. On my current homes, my property taxes are up 37% since 2019. What are the presumptions on that from a ʻrealʻ perspective? Is there a presumption that services have gone up accordingly, thus “consumption” has increased? Or is it treated purely as cost inflation?

Real consumption is private consumption on goods and services undertaken, in inflation adjusted terms (Figure 2). Disposable income takes into account federal, state and local taxes (Figure 3).




23 thoughts on “Are You Better Off than You Were Five Years Ago?

  1. pgl

    “I believe that Mr. Kopits is visually challenged.”

    It is more than that. He is challenged when it comes to basic economics, international law, or anything else. But of course he THINKS he is the expert on everythign. It is nice to live in his fact free world.

  2. pgl

    “if insurance goes up, is that pure inflation, or does it reflect ʻincreased serviceʻ to cover higher replacement costs?”

    One would think the self styled expert in everything would not ask such a dumb question. Insurance is not a service in the sense of getting a good hair cut. It covers the expected cost of any damage from things like storms. Which has clearly increased from …. what for it … climate change. Oh wait – Stevie pretends to be a consultant for Big Oil so I guess Stevie has to pretend that the higher cost of insurance has nothing to do with them. Duh.

    Now maybe his property taxes are higher now that he lives in the Northeast which got rocked by certain provisions in the 2017 tax act. But Stevie won’t blame that on Trump. It might risk his invite to appear on Fox and Friends.

  3. Macroduck

    Can’t help repeating myself, in response to “I donʻt think people are going to compare anything to the pandemic…They will make comparisons with 2019.”:

    “What you think is beside the point. There is no evidence that voters compare their situation now to particular years in the past; in that sense, there’s nothing special about 2019. There is evidence that confidence survey respondents have become more partisan in their responses, Republicans more so than Democrats or the politically unaffiliated. There is evidence that economic conditions 3 to 6 months prior to voting are what really matter in terms of voter preference. This stuff is pretty well documented. No need to rely on personal opinion.”

    I wrote that because Stevie has a string habit of pretending that his unsubstantiated views are important. He routinely offers up his “thoughts” as if they should matter, even when they run contrary to evidence.

    Appeals to authority are a debating trick. Appeals to one’s own authority are just embarrassing.

    1. Ivan

      I completely agree and would add that people also tend to shift time lines. Still remember a conservative family member who 6 month after Obama took office blamed him for the bail out of the banks. Even when I pointed out that the banks had been bailed out (no questions asked) by Bush II, and it was the strict bail out of the auto industry that had been done by Obama – he still insisted that Obama had just given out our money with no strings attacked. I would not be surprised at all to see people blaming Biden for the poor response to (and outcomes of) Covid in this country

  4. pgl

    Now we all get little Stevie can’t be bothered to look up the genesis of this expression to let’s educate the arrogant KNOW NOTHNG by going back to the 1980 campaign when St. Reagan claimed real income per capita fell under Jimmy Carter:

    Real gross domestic product per capita

    Gee FRED is telling us that this metric rose substantially under Carter. And thanks to that Reagan-Volcker macroeconomic mess, real income per capita after two years of St. Reagan had declined.

    But that has never stopped MAGA morons like Princeton Steve from believing otherwise.

  5. 2slugbaits

    Steven Kopits property taxes and home insurance have gone up a lot since then, without any corresponding increase in tangible benefits that I can see

    To begin with, property taxes are local and state issues, not federal government issues. If your property tax rates are too high, then complain to your local and state governments. But more to the point, look at BEA Table 2.4.4, PCE Price Indexes, line 52 (imputed home rental). Since 2019 that category has increased 25.7 percent. If you compare that value with growth rates in other categories (e.g., motor vehicles, food & beverages, etc.) you will see that relatively speaking people do seem to perceive greater tangible benefits from bigger and better homes. And if your property taxes have gone up because the value of your home has increased, then you are wealthier, which most people would consider a tangible benefit.

    1. Ithaqua

      One also wonders about his use of “tangible”; do intangible benefits, like better schools, more police, and better roads (well, I guess that’s tangible, in a way), not count, economically speaking?

      1. pgl

        Given the fact that little Stevie does not bother to read anything of value – I’m sure he gets no benefits from the local schools.

    2. Macroduck

      Thank you. Exactly my point. Stevie simply offered his own “thought” as a substitute for actual evidence.

  6. Willie

    Dunno about anybody else, but I sure am a lot better off than I was either four or five years ago. For whatever that is worth. But my knee wore out. Darn Democrats.

    1. Anonymous

      Five years ago I was 68.

      73 is not as well off as 68!

      Four more years I will be…… really annoyed with the incumbents

  7. Steven Kopits

    I think we can fairly say that voters, come November, will not use March 2019 as their baseline. They will be asking the question, “Am I better off now than before the pandemic?” And the answer is, “Eh.” If you’re on a fixed income, maybe not. You can’t afford to buy a new car, your credit card interest rate is punishing, your taxes are way up, as is your insurance. You certainly can’t afford to buy a house if you’re at the entry level. Mortgage originations are at the lowest level in 30 years — including the China Depression. If you can’t afford to buy a house when you expected to, then I think we can say you’re worse off than you were before the pandemic.

    I’d add that I grade Biden about a ‘B’ overall. Not terrible, not great, but usually enough for a re-election. But clearly, a very large portion of the electorate doesn’t feel that way. Collin Jost sums it up:

    1. pgl

      Your first sentence basically admits what you originally said was total BS. Gee – that’s about right.

      Now you might grade Biden a B but the adults here grade your comments an F minus. And maybe that is grade inflation.

    2. pgl

      Name anyone whose nominal income is fixed. I guess you are too stupid to know Social Security benefits are indexed to the price level. And the China Depression? Maybe you do not get the fact blatant racism is a bannable offense. If you do get banned, no one is going to miss your serial BS.

    3. Macroduck

      Again, you’ve offered your opinion about the behavior of the public at large, based on nothing. What makes you think your opinion has any value?

      1. pgl

        His statement on mortgage originations was factually incorrect. Then again 99% of what this troll claims is false. So his opinions are as worthless as that stupid blog of his.

    4. Baffling

      If trump ran the country during the years after the pandemic started, we would have been a washed out society with death and economic destruction. We are lucky that was not the case.

    5. Baffling

      If you are on a fixed income, and you believe that your economic prospects will grow with time, then you are rather foolish. The only way a person on fixed income improves over time is with a socialist government. Those on social security who vote republican need to get their heads examined.

  8. pgl

    Total mortgage originations in the United States from 2000 to 3rd quarter 2023(in billion U.S. dollars)

    Little Stevie clearly LIED here:

    “Mortgage originations are at the lowest level in 30 years”

    Stevie pooh provided no source for his lie. I did. OK – maybe we should use FRED but its data starts in 2012 so I had to go to another source to capture this series back to 2004. And yea – Stevie once again said something that is not true. Why would Stevie lie? Oh yea – he wants to get on Fox and Friends.

      1. pgl

        No explanation for your latest babble? Let me try:,useful%20but%20imperfect%20measure%20in%20the%20long%20term.

        What Is an MBA Purchase Index?
        The MBA Purchase Index is The Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly measurement of nationwide home loan applications based on a sample of about 75% of U.S. mortgage activity. Contrary to its name, the MBA Purchase Index does not measure the number of homes purchased or mortgage loans closed. Instead, it is simply a report of mortgage loan applications, so the actual number of loans and sales that were finalized will vary from the MBA Purchase Index.

        I guess you intended this as your weak reply to the series that showed 100% of mortgage originations (not 75%).. My series indicated that your claim that mortgage originations was at its lowest level in 30 years. Guess what Mr. MAGOO. Your link also indicated that you LIED.

        But nice try.

  9. Ivan

    It is unfortunate that for most lay people the numbers do not trump their gut feeling. They are to ignorant to evaluate the sources and quality of specific numbers – and paranoid enough to think that all numbers coming from experts must be ginned, distorted or made up, to support a false (deep state) agenda. So they basically fall back on sources they trust (Trump, Fox, etc.) to create their “reality” even as those are shown again and again to have lied. SAD.

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