Grocery circulars advertising help wanted, the economy and Joe Biden; Voters disconnect from economy, attached to cultural issues?

Many Elk Grove residents probably received a circular in their mailbox this weekend from WinCo. That circular was interesting on two counts.

Deep-discounter WinCo rarely, if ever, sends circulars. Unlike other grocery chains, they do not have weekly circular distributions.  

The second thing of interest was the one-page broadsheet advertisement dedicated a quarter of its space to employment recruitment. Lest you think working at WinCo is a step ahead of a convenience store job, many employees of the non-union Idaho-based chain retire as so-called WinCo millionaires.

Even though its hourly wages are lower than those of its unionized competitors, there is an opportunity for those with a long view to build seven-figure wealth. And yet, even with this opportunity, the chain has seen fit to use its infrequently used circulars as a recruitment tool.

Such is the state of employment in America. 

By all accounts, employment hasn't been this strong since the late 1960s. Even though Americans experienced inflation in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has dropped to just over three percent, and for those holding 401-k  accounts invested in equities, these are salad days.

Even though the economy is running on all pistons, President Joe Biden suffers from historically low approval ratings. Biden's rating is just slightly ahead of President Jimmy Carter, who suffered from hyperinflation and the Iranian hostage crisis as he sought a second term. 

And to be sure, during a solid pre-pandemic economy, Donald Trump, who had a robust economy, was as unpopular as Biden, albeit during a historic decorum-breaking administration.

Typically, presidential elections primarily hinge on economic matters. Remember Reagan's now oft-repeated Are you better off question in 1980 or Clinton's it's the economy stupid during the 1992 cycle? 

Money matters matter to voters. So what is going on?

Coincidentally, hours after the WinCo mailer arrived, Fareed Zakaria offered his explanation on his Sunday morning CNN program Global Public Square.

In a word, he said that while presidential elections traditionally hung on kitchen-table economic issues, there has been a significant shift away from them. That shift, he said, is based on social issues. 

More significantly, he postulates that political tribalism and cultural issues, driven by several factors, have overtaken economic concerns that drive presidential elections. Women's healthcare access and guns are two prime issues among many that reflect the deep non-economic issues dividing Americans. 

Mr. Zakaria's segment on this topic can be viewed here

His analysis is correct. Except for the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when large segments of the economy closed, the pre and post-pandemic economy was strong during the Trump and Biden administrations.

As we see with the WinCo recruitment and many other employers, a strong job market combined with moderating inflation should bolster Biden's reelection prospects, especially following the non-stop chaos of the Trump administration. However, Biden is as unpopular as Trump was during his administration, and some polls show Trump leading Bided in their race for a second term.

Barring some catastrophic economic event between now and November, and notwithstanding the vagaries of the electoral college, where the national popular vote is discounted, Americans are divided on cultural issues like never before during our lifetimes. Which side of the cultural divide has higher voter turnout in swing states will determine who is the next president. 

Barring a Great Depression-like economic meltdown or 9-11 type event, this and future elections will won and list on cultural issues.  

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