The Streets of America

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Joe Biden and the Democrats are perplexed. They look at the numbers and think the economy is going well and cannot figure out why the President’s approval rating is so low. Yet they are looking at the economy from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a street far removed from all the other streets in the United States.

To understand how America is doing in 2024, We need to think about the different streets of the country. Each street brings with it its own perspective.

From the perspective of Wall Street, the US economy is doing well. The big six Silicon Valley companies are driving a stock market to record levels, up by ten-percent if not more, in the first few months of 2024. There are record profits as artificial intelligence is rolled out.  From Wall Street, America looks great. It is also Wall Street that will give the money and determine who occupies the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue come November this year.

Then there is Main Street. Main Street refers to the average business in America. It could be the ma-and-pa business or it could be the small startup. But when we look at the state of Main Street, it is not as rosy as Wall Street. According to US News 38% of Main street businesses are worried about the US economy.  They are concerned about inflation, concerned about the election of the next president, and concerned about the impact that AI or other technologies could have upon their business.

Now consider Elm Street. Elm Street refers to the average street in America.  It could be in suburbia with the proverbial single family house and the white picket fence. Or it could simply be the apartment building, the condo, townhouse.  From this perspective Elm Street’s not doing that well. In February 2024, the average price of a home was $485,000; small consolation that it was down from over a half million dollars the month before. High interest rates contribute to making housing unaffordable, especially for young people. These are the people who seem to be turned off by Joe Biden this year.

Additionally, those who live in Elm Street look at the inflation rate. Gas remains expensive, likely to go up with summer travel. There is sticker shock going to the grocery store and overall wages have not kept up with the inflation in the last few years.

There is another street. It is the streets that go through rural America. With farm roads, the story is of family farms, which continue to erode and struggle in America. These are the voters who support Donald Trump and support his policies. Yet these are policies that largely have done nothing to help those who live on the streets of rural America. Yet they seem persistently and fervently supporting him.

Trump spins the tales that the causes of their woes for them are immigrants or the Chinese, when in fact, the causes are the policies that the likes of Donald Trump have spun.

There is then 125 Street. This is perhaps the most famous street in Harlem in New York. It is the street that symbolizes the streets where people of color, especially African Americans live.  The state of race in America on the streets is not good. Across the board, people of color, especially Black and Hispanic,  are behind white America in terms of their incomes, their wealth, and graduation rates from schools. They are still more likely to be arrested and stopped by police. Despite all the symbolic gestures to address race in America that came after the death of George Floyd, little has happened to change their lot in life.

Finally, there are those who are living on the street. By conservative estimates, there are a half a million people who are homeless on any given night in the United States. Perhaps in the course of a year, the number of people who find themselves homeless at any point or near homeless far exceeds that. These are individuals priced out of homes or apartments.   These are Individuals who for a variety of reasons have been abandoned or have not been able to succeed on the streets of America for reasons that are not due to their own volition.

Across America, there are many streets.  The street you stand on determines what you see. It defines your neighborhood and your perspective.  For both Joe Biden and Donald Trump what they both need to do is to get out on the streets they live on at the White House or the Mar-a-Lago and to see how people who truly live  across these different streets.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.