That many Americans struggle shouldn’t surprise North Dakota

The findings of a little-reported study should come as no surprise to many people in North Dakota.

According to an Urban Institute survey of nearly 7,600 adults, about 40 percent of American families struggled to meet at least one of their basic needs last year, including paying for food, healthcare, housing or utilities. The study found that the difficulties were most prevalent among adults with lower incomes or health issues. But it also revealed that people from all walks of life were running into similar hardships.

Considering positive economic news, one might at first be surprised to learn that so many citizens are struggling. Unemployment is at or near its organic base, the economy is growing at a rate not seen in many years, the market continues to soar and, interestingly, consumer confidence is at an 18-year high. In an unusual contradiction, people are more willing to spend now even while many others report having to choose monthly between which bills to pay.

Two years ago, if one had predicted the state of the summer 2018 economy would be as strong as it is, he might well have been laughed at.

Yet here we are. Our energy production is high and we can now export. A month ago, the boogeyman of tariffs was going to bring the economy crashing down. Now, as of this writing, it appears NAFTA is about to be replaced with deals more equitable to U.S. business.

So, why the discomfort for so many Americans? A closer look shows some essential weaknesses in the economy. The Affordable Care Act didn’t repair healthcare and it has been all but left to continue to degrade. High-deductible, high out of pocket expense plans common under the ACA remain common, leaving many people one hospital stay from indebtedness. Political leaders might claim there is no serious inflation, but anyone who buys milk or gas or chicken knows this is mathematical chicanery. State and local governments in some places have had to step in and compensate for federal cutbacks.

In North Dakota in general and Minot in particular, it’s probably easier for people to understand. As the state cut back investment, local government entities have increased taxes. Much higher home valuations mean higher property taxes. Of all places, Minot ranks among the highest in the cost of food, and high for healthcare and energy. Yes, unemployment is low, but many are working for less than a living wage and business growth is hampered by a lack of good labor.

It isn’t a matter of optimism or pessimism. It’s a matter of what gauge one uses to measure an economy. There is a lot trending in the right direction; it just isn’t driving other considerations that remain in the red.

Here, we understand that things might not be as good as they appear to some observers. Here, we continue to look for and hope for holistic solutions.