Incomes are up, and poverty is down. Home values are rising, interest rates remain low and more Americans have health coverage. More people have jobs, and fewer homeowners face foreclosure. Despite Donald Trump's dour pronouncements, the economic picture for Florida and the nation is brighter. The question is how to broaden and accelerate those encouraging trends, and the answer is to build on the Obama administration's achievements rather than embrace Trump's tax cuts for the rich, dismantle health care reform and trigger foreign trade wars.
The Census Bureau reported this week that median family incomes rose a remarkable 5.2 percent last year, the first increase since 2007 — the last year before the economic recession. It rose for white, black and Hispanic families, across younger and older generations and throughout every region of the country. It rose for men as well as women. Facts are indeed stubborn things, and these show Trump's grim picture of an America in a free-fall decline is not close to accurate.
While Trump declared this week that "poverty is beyond belief,'' the census shows the number of people living in poverty dropped by about 8 percent last year, or by about 3.5 million. The decrease in the overall poverty rate was the steepest since 1968, and low-wage workers finally saw good income gains. These are trends to build upon, not to reverse.
Here's another positive sign: The national uninsured rate fell to a record low of 8.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016, as millions of Americans now have health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Florida's uninsured rate dropped from 21.3 percent in 2010 to 13.3 percent last year, with more than 1.5 million additional residents covered. The state's uninsured rate would be even lower if callous Florida House Republicans had not blocked Medicaid expansion, which would cover another 712,000 Floridians.
These are the positive directions in the overall economy and in health care in particular that President Barack Obama does not receive enough credit for and that would be built upon by Hillary Clinton. Part of the reason for the disconnect between the statistics and the apprehensions of many voters is that the economic recovery has been painfully slow, at least until last year. It also has been uneven nationally and in Florida, with the unemployment rate dropping faster in urban areas such as Miami and Tampa Bay than in outer suburbs and less developed areas such as Hernando County.
Another issue driving the presidential race in Florida and elsewhere is the hollowing out of the middle class. A new Florida International University report confirms that the state's middle class shrank between 2009 and 2014 to less than half of all households while the upper class expanded. The lower class, whose average annual income is just $12,098, grew to nearly a third of all households. The campaign pledges from candidates for offices ranging from president to the Florida Legislature to county commissions to focus on building better job training programs and creating higher-paying jobs has to be more than lip service.
It's hard to find the truth in a sea of distortions and outright lies this election season. A raft of nonpartisan reports this week offer a clear-eyed picture of a state and a nation headed in the right direction economically even amid the serious challenges of big income disparities by race and geography, too many low-paying jobs and health care reform that needs work to improve access and reduce costs. Clinton wants to build upon the successes of the Obama administration in ways that would help Florida, from promoting renewable energy to generally encouraging free trade to improving health care. Trump talks of helping coal mines and steel mills, erecting trade barriers and repealing health care reform. The goal should be to move forward, not turn back the clock.