Wolfers insights on U.S. economic performance

September 7, 2023

Over this past summer, Justin Wolfers, professor of public policy and economics at the Ford School, was widely interviewed on the state of the economy and the American public's reactions to its performance. 

Here are highlights from his media appearances:

Why Biden’s strong economy feels so bad to most Americans, CNN, September 7, 2023

“Has the economy improved under Joe Biden? There’s literally no question,” said Justin Wolfers, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.

In January 2021, the start of Biden’s term, “everything sucked,” according to Wolfers. Unemployment was at 6.3% and the economy had yet to rebound from the shock of Covid-19. Wolfers described that time as “one of the worst economic moments of my life.”

Two and a half years later, the US economy is in a much healthier spot.

“There’s this disjunction between reality and perception that’s as large as I’ve ever seen in my career,” Wolfers told CNN. “If you’d fallen asleep in 2019 and woke up in 2023, you would discover pretty much the sort of economy you would have expected.”

Univ. of Michigan's Wolfers: You Want to Be Less Model-Driven, Bloomberg, August 25, 2023

“The pandemic continues to exert a really important influence on the economy. … Labor supply, the return of women to the workforce, work from home, a fundamental transformation in the way we work, all the investments that didn’t happen, the shift toward services … this is going to continue to shape the economy for another two, three, four, five years,” said Wolfers.

U.S. markets tumble ahead of inflation report, CNN, August 10, 2023

"There is something of a disconnect. People are not quite as happy as you would expect. There is an interesting part to this, which is, if you ask people, 'How is the American economy doing?', they say, and particularly Republicans, say, 'Not well.' But once you ask them about their actual personal experiences, they sound a lot more optimistic."

Bidenomics: Why Biden gets poor ratings on the economy despite improving numbers, Washington Examiner, August 2, 2023

“It’s taken a while for people to come out of a very, very difficult three years and actually look around and see we’ve got most of our old lives back, and in fact, we’ve got a stronger economy than we had when we went into it,” said Wolfers.

Recession averted?, WDIV, July 30, 2023

“Our recovery in terms of economic growth - the amount of output we produce, the income we earn, the amount that Americans are spending - all three of those is stronger than any other country in the G7. Our inflation performance has been better than any other country in the G7,” said Wolfers.

The Twitter Debate About Biden’s Wages Claim, FactCheck.org, July 19, 2023

Wolfers told FactCheck.org that most economists measuring pre-pandemic norms grab data from January 2020, though some use February. By late February, he said, many people were already not leaving their homes. To use March data as the pre-pandemic starting point is a mistake, he said.

Biden’s economic dream is becoming reality — but how long can he sustain it?, Politico, July 12, 2023

“The story of almost every recession in modern American history is something bad happened, and it was something bad we didn’t see coming,” said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan. “What could happen between now and 2024? A ton of bad things. You know what else could happen? Good things,” said Wolfers.

Inflation 'awfully close to being normal', MSNBC, July 12, 2023

“Inflation is awfully close to being normal. There are lots of good reasons to expect inflation to keep falling,” said Wolfers.