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Unveiling the Untold Story: The 3 Charts That Explain American Economic Unhappiness

BusinessUnveiling the Untold Story: The 3 Charts That Explain American Economic Unhappiness
The 21st-century economy of the United States has exhibited substantial growth and development, evinced by the low unemployment rates and expansion of the GDP. However, the populace’s perception of the economy paints a completely different picture. The prevalent economic gloominess among Americans has led economists and policy experts to delve into the underlying causes of this disconnection and look beyond the apparent elevation in inflation.

Factors Underlying Economic Unhappiness

According to Ben Harris, the director of the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution, there are three plausible explanations for the prevalent economic dissatisfaction among the American populace. Firstly, it is evident that individuals genuinely find the current economy unsatisfactory, possibly stemming from displeasure with price levels and long-standing structural issues like economic inequality and housing affordability. Secondly, the concept of “referred pain” suggests that dissatisfaction with other societal issues, such as gun violence and social isolation, tarnishes the public’s perception of the economy. Lastly, there is substantial evidence pointing towards the potential impact of polarized news sources and negative economic coverage on public sentiment.

Unveiling the Economic Stress: The 3 Pertinent Charts

Examining the economic distress prevalent among a segment of U.S. households reveals a nuanced and multi-dimensional narrative, which challenges the conventional outlook of a robust economy. Delving into three significant charts can offer valuable insight into the economic unease pervading the nation.

Chart 1: Financial Distress Comparable to Great Recession Levels

Amidst the pandemic, millions of U.S. households experienced an influx of cash due to stimulus checks and expanded governmental support. However, the dissipation of these benefits has led to increased financial stress among consumers, subsequently resulting in higher reliance on credit cards to cope with soaring household expenses. This has contributed to a surge in credit card debt, with approximately 49% of Americans carrying balances from month to month. A recent analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests that the proportion of consumers experiencing financial distress due to credit cards has reached levels akin to those witnessed during the Great Recession, underscoring the growing economic strain faced by certain households.
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Chart 2: Escalating Difficulties in Bill Payments

Despite the economic expansion and wage growth, a significantly larger cohort of Americans report challenges in meeting their household expenses. The number of consumers encountering immense difficulty in paying their bills has surged from 26.9 million during the peak of the pandemic to 43.2 million in the most recent data, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This paradoxical scenario, in the backdrop of an ostensibly robust economy, alludes to underlying economic disparities and challenges faced by a substantial proportion of the population.

Chart 3: Escalating Housing Unaffordability

The soaring housing prices and escalating interest rates have rendered once affordable cities unattainable for many first-time buyers. The confluence of these factors necessitates an annual income of at least $100,000 for prospective homebuyers in half of the major cities across the U.S. Furthermore, a report by real estate data provider ATTOM highlights that home prices in 99% of U.S. counties are beyond the means of the average income earner, who typically earns around $71,000 annually. This escalating unaffordability has left numerous consumers feeling constricted, particularly younger individuals who perceive themselves as being obstructed from achieving pivotal life milestones such as homeownership.


The economic discontent pervading the United States contradicts the ostensibly robust economic indicators, necessitating a comprehensive examination of the underlying factors contributing to this disillusionment. The deep-rooted economic stress is evident through the three remarkable charts that highlight the financial distress, bill payment difficulties, and housing unaffordability confronting a substantial segment of the population. Addressing these challenges necessitates a multi-faceted approach, underscoring the imperative need for sustained efforts to alleviate economic disparities and enhance financial resilience.
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