Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Mitt Romney jab at Biden over 7 percent inflation ignores rising wages

PolitiFact | Republicans and Democrats have been waging a messaging war about how good, or bad, the economy really is.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is surrounded by reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington on June 10, 2021.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is surrounded by reporters as he walks to the Senate chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington on June 10, 2021. [ J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP ]
Published Jan. 24

With the highest inflation rates in decades weighing heavily on the minds of many Americans, both Republicans and Democrats have been waging a messaging war about how good, or bad, the economy really is.

On the Jan. 16 edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, took a shot at President Joe Biden’s stewardship of the economy and other matters of state.

“He’s had a bad year,” Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, said of Biden. “He’s had 52 weeks of bad weeks. I mean, people are 7 percent poorer now because of Biden inflation. Gasoline prices are, what, 50 percent higher than they were when he took office. The border is a mess. COVID was resurgent, but he didn’t have in place the tests people needed to keep themselves safe. And then, of course, there was the disaster in Afghanistan. Russia’s now threatening Ukraine. Things are not going well.”

Here, we’ll look at Romney’s assertion that “people are 7 percent poorer now because of Biden inflation.”

The inflation rate was 7 percent during 2021. However, Romney’s focus on inflation alone to claim that Americans are “7 percent poorer” leaves out half of the equation: rising incomes. An unusually rapid rise in wages erased a lot of, although not all of, the inflation bump last year.

“The thought is incomplete,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank. “It leaves out important context.”

Romney’s office said that his comment was based on the recently released inflation numbers, and argued that wage growth varies across different industries, regions and income segments.

Last year’s 7 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index, the government’s main inflation indicator, was the biggest increase since 1982, when President Ronald Reagan was still in his first term in office. Inflation on that scale can be a major economic problem, because it tends to make the typical individual or family poorer, all other things being equal. (There is some variation in who gets hit hardest by rising inflation.)

However, all other things are not equal. Incomes go up, too.

If someone’s salary or wages go up faster than the inflation rate, they’ll still come out ahead. If their pay keeps pace with inflation, they’ll be no worse off. If it doesn’t, then they will be poorer.

The median American worker was indeed poorer in December 2021 than in December 2020. But Romney’s claim that they were “7 percent poorer” exaggerated the amount. Rising wages covered about two-thirds of the rise in prices.

The best measure to evaluate this comparison, according to economists, is average hourly earnings for all private employees. This measurement is well suited for checking Romney’s assertion, because it’s reported monthly, like the inflation data.

Between December 2020 and December 2021, average hourly earnings for private employees rose by 4.7 percent, which is a healthy increase by historical standards.

That still meant the typical American fell behind by 2.3 percent, a notable and worrisome figure. But that’s a fraction of the 7 percent that Romney cited.

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter

We’ll break down the latest business and consumer news and insights you need to know every Wednesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Inflation-adjusted wages “have declined slightly, but by significantly less than 7 percent,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Other measures paint a similar picture.

A private-sector measure, the Payscale Index, provides data through the third quarter of 2021. It found that year-over-year wage growth, once adjusted for inflation, was negative 0.5 percent.

And an analysis by the Brookings Institution of data reported by 13 large companies (including Amazon and McDonalds) through October 2021 found that workers at 10 of the companies saw wage gains even after accounting for inflation.

Finally, some economists took issue with Romney’s term “Biden inflation.” Presidents can have an impact on the economy through the policies they pursue, but a number of factors beyond the control of any president, including the status of the coronavirus pandemic globally and supply-chain difficulties, have played a significant role in accelerating inflation.

By focusing only on the inflation rate and not rising wages, Romney “is attributing 100% of the blame for the negative impact of price change to the president, while assigning 0% of the credit for the income gains to Biden,” said Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist.

Our ruling

Romney said, “People are 7 percent poorer now because of Biden inflation.”

The inflation rate was 7 percent in the past year. However, a 4.7 percent increase in wages reduced the impact on the typical worker by about two-thirds, making Romney’s figure exaggerated.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

PolitiFact staff writer Jon Greenberg contributed to this report.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge