The state of the American wallet is bad

Commentator Amelia Tyagi

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: This week's State of the Union address could easily have been labeled "the State of Your Wallet." The president pushed for more jobs, health care reform, a bigger child care tax credit, changes to how you pay back your student loans. And he wants employers to automatically sign up their workers for retirement plans.

Commentator Amelia Tyagi wonders whether any of this will make the average American feel better about what's in their wallets.


Amelia Tyagi: The State of the Average American Wallet is bad. Really bad. For millions of Americans, it feels like being a patient with double pneumonia and cancer, who's in the middle of a knife fight.

Now, if this were a good TV show, the handsome Dr. Obama would have discovered a Miracle Cure, and the ailing American middle class would be on the mend by the end of the show. But this isn't television.

The middle class is suffering from stagnant wages and massive uncertainty about whether they can even hold onto the jobs they have. Think of that as the double pneumonia. Then there's runaway costs for health care, education, and child care -- that's the cancer. Add to that spiraling personal debt, the disappearance of pensions and retirement security, and an explosion in dangerous mortgages and credit card traps -- those are the knife attacks.

And this is all happening at the same time.

Did Dr. Obama propose the perfect cure? Of course not. The speech missed a few biggies, most notably disability coverage, a gaping hole in the safety net that drops millions of families into bankruptcy. And a pittance more for a child care tax credit just doesn't close the gap for most middle-class families.

But let's face it: the American wallet has been under attack for three decades. And it's still reeling from the worst recession in living memory. There is no miracle cure. We need a dozen different medicines to treat a dozen different ailments.

That doesn't make for great television, or even great speeches. But if Dr. Obama really can address the problems he outlined -- jobs, health care, education, and retirement -- the middle class wallet would certainly be a little healthier than it is today. Perhaps the most important thing President Obama did for the American Wallet was to continue sounding the alarm: "This patient is sick, and we need medicine now."

That may sound obvious, but just a few years ago, it was common wisdom on Capitol Hill that a family with money troubles pretty much deserved what they got. The State of the Union address kept the American Wallet right where it belongs -- front and center on the national agenda, reminding us yet again that empty wallets are everyone's problem to fill.

Vigeland: Amelia Tyagi is co-author of "The Two Income Trap" and chief operating officer of the Business Talent Group.

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