By many accounts, tonight's State of the Union address by Barack Obama will involve spiking the football.
If press reports are correct, he's going to spend a good chunk of time boasting of his presidency's successes and achievements, such as a big drop in the unemployment rate, a housing market turnaround, five-plus years of job growth, and sustained, if meager, economic expansion. Throw in the supposed miracle of universal healthcare coverage, reducing the size of annual federal deficits, record tax revenue, the containment of ISIS, and generally unacknowledged but yuge declines in gun violence and crime generally, and what's left to complain about, right?
If you ask the American people—not just Republicans, but all of us—there's plenty of problems. That's why RealClearPolitics finds that 65 percent of us say the country is on "the wrong track." Just 25 percent say things are headed in the right direction.
Americans aren't ingrates or spoiled children. According to the National Association of Counties (NACO), a whopping 93 percent of U.S. counties have failed to claw back to where they were economically when the recession officially ended. NACO looked at four indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy, and house prices.
Overall, the county economies recovered on all four indicators by 2015 still represent only 7 percent of all county economies. In contrast, almost 16 percent of county economies had not recovered on any indicator by 2015, mostly in the South and Midwest. States such as Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Mississippi have more than a third of their county economies still reeling from the latest downturn across all economic indicators.
Take a look at this map, which charts county performance on the various indicators, with deep blue signaling recovery of all four indicators and pale tan revealing a goose egg (grey means no data were available).
A lot of highly populated areas (southern California, say, or urban parts of Texas) are scoring good results on two or more indicators, but there are huge swaths of the country that are doing pretty piss poor. And when you factor the slow pace of the recovery and a series of international issues, it's not surprising that 65 percent think we're going to hell in a bucket.
The Wall Street Journal's Eric Morath reports:
By the end of last year, more counties had not recovered on any one of the four indicators, 16%, than had recovered on all of them.
"Americans don't live in a single economic place," said Emilia Istrate, [NACO]'s director of research and outreach and one of the study's authors. "It tells you why many Americans don't feel the good economic numbers they see on TV."
And if that's trouble enough, there's this: "The U.S. economy is showing weakness in nearly everything but employment."
So if Obama does spend a lot of time talking up just how great things have gotten during his two terms in the White House, he's going to be mostly talking to himself. Since the middle of 2013, in fact, his disapproval rating has been higher than his approval rating. Unless he turns water into wine or multiplies loaves and fishes, nothing he can say tonight will turn those numbers around any time soon.