Updated on Oct. 25 with updates about student loan forgiveness.
Last year, nearly all millennial women in our audience told us that the job market and the economy (think: inflation and student debt) are important election issues to them. And most voters feel the same: One Gallup poll found that 85% of US adults said that the state of the economy is “extremely” or “very important to their vote.” And some candidates are running on their ability to change it.
The state of the economy
News events can impact our wallets. Think: Stocks saw a 20% drop in the first half of the year, and the war in Ukraine sent gas prices up (which led to record highs in the US). And President Biden is considering lifting tariffs on China to help bring prices down. And although politicians can do things to help ease the strain on your bank account (for example, the Fed increased interest rates to try and combat soaring prices), they don’t have a lot of control over the day-to-day economy. That’s in part because things like domestic and global events, private and public companies, and changing demographics all can play a role in shaping the economy.
But inflation isn’t the only thing at play here. In 2021, the housing market boomed, with the average home price skyrocketing. Then this summer, mortgage rates hit their highest levels in over a decade — pushing many would-be home buyers (looking at you, millennials) to rent instead. But that’s not all -- rental prices across the country have also spiked. In NYC, Boston, Miami, Orlando, and Austin rent increased 25% or more between 2021-2022.
But rising rent prices isn’t the only dollar sign on voters' minds. Enter student debt. ICYMI: President Biden is canceling up to $20k in federal student debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10k for borrowers who make less than $125k per year (or $250,000 for households). That’s much-needed relief for some millennials, who on average, hold nearly $100k in debt, according to an Experian study. But since he released his plan, six states have tried to block his loan forgiveness program. Plus an appeals court put President Biden’s plan on a temporary pause. But even if it moves forward, economists are stuck on the economic impact. Some say forgiving student loan debt could lead to higher inflation, while others say its impact on inflation will be minimal.
But one thing's for sure: The state of the economy is top of mind for Americans.
Power players: Who actually has control
At a state level, your controller (the position exists in 19 states and acts like a state treasurer), governor, and state senators and representatives can influence economic decisions. At the national level, that comes down to your elected senator and representative. Plus, of course, the president and the Fed. (Learn more about these positions and others here.)
Races to Watch
Here’s three races where economic issues could play a significant role:
Arizona’s Senate Race:
Stakes: Tackling raising prices is a big concern in Arizona. That’s because consumer prices went up about 12% over the last 12 months in the Phoenix area, with energy prices jumping 43%.
What to know: Kelly — a former NASA astronaut and veteran — has said there are six things he is doing to provide financial relief to Arizonans. That includes lowering gas prices, expanding microchip manufacturing, and cutting drug prices. Masters — a Trump-endorsed candidate — says one of his top focuses will be to “stop Bidenflation.” Which he’ll do by “fighting the bureaucrats and overregulations responsible for driving prices up” and “restoring American energy independence.”
California’s Controller Race:
Stakes: California has seen some of the largest rent hikes this year. Fresno, CA saw a 28% increase in rent from 2021-2022. Now, concerns around inflation could motivate Republicans to head to the polls — which could help Chen’s chances. (Note: If he won, that’d make him the first Republican to win a statewide office there since 2006.)
What to know: Chen was a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, which advises the gov on, you guessed it, social security. If elected, he says he’ll protect CA taxpayers from fraud, and that he believes in fiscal transparency, and will hold politicians accountable. Cohen is the current Chair of the State Board of Equalization, which administers taxes, and programs to support state and local government. She says she wants to address the state's housing crisis, and expand affordable healthcare.
Georgia’s Senate Race:
What to know: Warnock — who was elected to the Senate in 2021 — is the state’s first Black senator. He opposes tax breaks for the rich and wants to focus on job creation. Walker, a former NFL player, says he’ll “fight to make America energy independent” to help lower gas prices, and create jobs.
Although elected officials can’t make inflation disappear, they can help ease rising costs. And as most voters say this is the top issue to them, who’s elected to office can make a difference.
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