Krystal Clear: Recent GDP growth doesn't mean a 'damn thing'

By Krystal Ball
Opinion Contributor

High GDP growth has the president crowing. But, what do those numbers mean for you? Not a damn thing.

Elite conversation tends to fixate on three economic indicators as barometers for the strength of the economy: unemployment, GDP and the stock market.

Unfortunately however, the-day-to-day experience for working and middle class Americans has become completely divorced from these macro metrics. An overall growth rate doesn't tell you a thing about how the spoils of that growth are shared.

So where should we look instead? Here are a few ideas. 

First, real wage growth. Are workers getting ahead? Or falling behind? Real wage growth can give you a sense and help tease out who's benefitting from those top-level metrics. Newsflash, it's not workers. 

According to Harvard Business Review, worker wages have been essentially flat since the 1970's! This should be an emergency but somehow instead it's a pesky sidenote in our economic conversation.

Second, rate of unionization. As go unions, so goes the middle class. It really is that simple.

Unions lift wages, benefits, and worker dignity. You can see in this chart how unions have steadily declined right along with the middle class. This president, was a union buster when he was in business, and he's a union buster as president.

Finally, deaths of despair.

Sometimes you have to look beyond pure economic stats to get a real taste of what life is like for average Americans. 

When you add together suicides, deaths by overdose, and alcoholism, you get a grim metric that's been dubbed deaths of despair.

How many people find their situation so mind-numbing, awful and generally hopeless that they give up on their own life? Here too, we have a disaster unfolding that seems to be hitting middle age high school educated whites in particular. Take a look at these maps. The nation has been gripped by an epidemic of despair and yet no one has actually proposed anything to deal with it.

Once upon a time overall economic numbers actually meant something. A rising tide indeed seemed to lift all boats.

Those days are long gone though, and as long as we aim our policy at the wrong metrics, they ain't coming back.  

Krystal Ball is the co-host of "Rising," Hill.TV's morning news show.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.