UNITED STATES NEWS

It’s a mismatch on the economy. Even as inflation wanes, voters still worry about getting by

Feb 6, 2024, 10:08 PM

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Bartender Catey Regis had a pricey misadventure buying a used car recently — an experience that speaks to why voters are worrying about the U.S. economy going into this year’s presidential election.

Over three years at Founders Brewing, the 25-year-old saved enough money pouring IPAs, stouts and porters to pay cash for a 2009 Toyota Corolla. But then the car’s transmission went kaput and she had to take out a costly loan to fix it, and keep her toehold in the middle class.

“To me, it’s a telltale sign about the economy,” Regis explained from a bar stool after her shift. She plans to vote for President Joe Biden over Republican front-runner Donald Trump but, frankly, wishes there was someone else on the ballot.

By the numbers, the U.S. economy looks impressively strong. Growth surged 2.5% last year. Inflation has eased. Unemployment is a healthy 3.7%. Biden is telling voters that the numbers point to a brighter future, while Trump says the gains are merely the fumes of his time in office.

But conversations with dozens of voters around Grand Rapids — a city of 200,000 in one of Michigan’s swing counties — show they’re thinking about the economy through their own experiences. And they tell a story about an economy, a country and a world that seems to many to have spun out of control.

Most are sure the U.S. is in a recession. (It’s not.) High grocery prices have them down. For renters, high home prices are putting the American dream out of reach. There is a sense of generational decline and more barriers to genuine financial security.

“The price of everything is going up and even though they are trying to raise the minimum wage, most people are getting paid the same,” said 28-year-old Cameron Brown, who offered a rushed assessment as he hurried past outside Westwood Mall in suburban Kentwood. He said he’ll vote for Trump because he “runs the country like a business.”

There are multiple signs in economic reports that people’s feelings about the economy have improved as inflation has eased after hitting a four-decade peak in the middle of 2022. People are finding ways to get by, even if few say they’re getting ahead.

However, conversations with voters uncovered doubts about Biden’s ability to fix the nation’s challenges and concerns among some that Trump could make those challenges worse.

There’s a persistent concern about a recession. Some voters worried about the fighting in the Middle East and Ukraine starting a third world war. Others saw the influx of migrants at the U.S. southern border as a threat to national security and a strain on government finances.

“I feel like there’s a recession and I’m living it,” says Scott Thompson, a 44-year-old Caledonia small business owner who drives for Uber on the side. “The cost of living, groceries, cereal, car insurance, and the equipment for my business is more expensive.”

Thompson, who owns a telecom reseller, plans to vote for Trump in 2024. “I think Trump did a good job — no, he wasn’t very presidential — but he did what he said he was going to do,” Thompson said as he drove a fare to the mall.

Trump cut taxes for corporations and most households at the end of 2017, as well as imposing tariffs on Chinese imports and borrowing trillions of dollars for pandemic aid. The Biden administration kept the tariffs and launched another round of pandemic aid, as well as making substantial investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and renewable energy.

But Teresa Johnson worries about paying her $1,500 rent. Housing costs have been rising faster than overall inflation, a problem — compounded by higher mortgage rates — that has led more people to rent as prices have risen in the most desirable neighborhoods.

“The president needs to fix that,” said Johnson, 62, a Black single parent in Kentwood who is a Democrat but open to backing Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is running against Trump for the Republican nomination.

The Biden administration has also sent conflicting messages in some cases to voters. Domestic oil production is at record highs, helping to keep down gasoline prices. But as part of the effort to combat climate change, Biden is also providing incentives to support the development of renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels.

Charles Kroll, CFO of a Grand Rapids fuel distribution company, stopped to chat after a recent local “state of business” event and said he’s worried about the impact of Biden’s climate policies — he calls it the president’s “war on oil and gas.” Kroll voted for Trump in 2016, Biden in 2020 and is undecided this time.

Grand Rapids is the seat of Kent County, which backed Trump in 2016 and then flipped to Biden in 2020. About 10% of the county’s population is Black and more than 7% is multiracial, according to the Census Bureau. Nearly 40% of its population has a college degree. And of its college graduates, more than half are younger than 45 — a population that has become an essential Democratic constituency.

But those voters’ support of Biden is generally rooted in an opposition to Trump, who was impeached twice as president and since leaving office has been criminally indicted on an array of activities including the possession of classified material and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

“I will not vote for someone who could cause so much instability,” said Arick Davis, a 32-year-old part-owner of Last Mile Café in South East Grand Rapids.

But Davis is well aware that consumers are feeling pressure on how much they can spend and the challenge that Black-owned businesses like his have with accessing lines of credit to expand. To the extent that the economy is doing well, there is little confidence that it is necessarily sustainable.

“I can tell people are more aware of how much they are spending — and I feel like people are having a hard time budgeting,” Davis said as he waited for a Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce “State of Business” event to start. He’ll vote for Biden, he says, but unenthusiastically.

___

Boak reported from Washington.

United States News

Associated Press

Woman holding large knife at Denver intersection shot and killed by police, chief says

DENVER (AP) — Officers shot and killed a woman who was holding a large, hunting-style knife at an intersection in downtown Denver on Sunday, police said. Officers used a Taser on the woman twice but she began advancing toward them as they tried to back up from her, Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said a […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

2 killed when vintage plane crashes during Father’s Day event at Southern California airfield

CHINO, Calif. (AP) — Two people were killed aboard a vintage plane that crashed and burst into flames near a Southern California airfield during a weekend Father’s Day event hosted by an air museum, authorities said Sunday. The Federal Aviation Administration said the twin-engine Lockheed 12A crashed shortly after 12:30 p.m. Saturday, just west of […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

2 people seriously injured after small plane crashes near interstate south of Denver

LARKSPUR, Colo. (AP) — Two people were hospitalized with serious injuries after their small plane crashed near Interstate 25 in Colorado on Sunday, officials said. The plane crashed in a field just off I-25 near Larkspur, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Denver, after it apparently hit a sign on the highway, causing it […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Kansas lawmaker’s law license suspended over conflicts of interest in murder case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Republican Kansas lawmaker who already dropped his re-election campaign last month after he was arrested in a traffic stop has now been barred from practicing law for at least a year for mishandling conflicts of interest in a murder case. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that state Rep. Carl Maughan […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Police identify Michigan splash pad shooter but there’s still no word on a motive

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Authorities on Sunday identified the man who opened fire at a splash pad in suburban Detroit before taking his own life, but his motives remained unknown as investigators worked to determine if he left behind any hint of his plans. Oakland County Sheriff’s spokesperson Stephen Huber said the shooter was […]

14 hours ago

Associated Press

7 shot when gunfire erupts at a pop-up party in Massachusetts

METHUEN, Mass. (AP) — Seven people were shot and wounded, and an eighth was hurt while running away when gunfire erupted at a large gathering of young people in Methuen, Massachusetts, authorities said Sunday. The gunfire began just before 2 a.m. after hundreds of people gathered for a pop-up party organized on social media, officials […]

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

It’s a mismatch on the economy. Even as inflation wanes, voters still worry about getting by