Economy improving, but Washington isn’t helping

Some startlingly good economic news has surfaced.

The Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty and income showed that last year, poor and middle-class Americans enjoyed their best year of economic improvement in decades. Real median household income rose to $56,500, a jump of 5.2 percent — the largest bump since the bureau started tracking this data point in the 1960s.

The number of people in poverty fell by 3.5 million.

President Barack Obama hailed the numbers as proof that the benefits of the nation’s fitful economic recovery are finally filtering down to the less fortunate.

But Republicans also were right when they said the numbers show too many people are still being left behind. Median incomes jumped 7.3 percent in America’s cities, but they barely moved in rural areas.

It’s tempting to chalk such problems up to the capricious whims of a rapidly shifting global economy. But researchers at Harvard Business School say the single biggest problem facing the U.S. economy isn’t the digital evolution or globalization — it’s the broken political system in Washington.

Because Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on infrastructure spending, corporate tax policy or other basic economic questions, the economy is struggling to reach top speed, according to Harvard’s U.S. Competitiveness Project report.

Both political parties duck the hard choices needed to fix the problems, the report contends. Instead, they identify others we can blame for our problems.

“The culprits, they say, are immigrants, Wall Street, well-off Americans, other countries, big business, international trade — everyone and everything except the parties themselves. The ‘solutions’ offered are emotionally appealing, but simplistic and deeply misguided,” the report says.

Keep the Harvard report tucked in the back of your mind. Its authors say we’ve had 15 or so years of paralysis in Washington. I say it’s time to change that.

With two deeply unpopular candidates squaring off in what the report calls “the most divisive and polarized presidential election campaign in a century,” the prospects for change in 2017 seem bleak.

But we get the government we deserve. If we behave like adults and share the country with our political opponents, the parties will follow suit.

Yes, the economy is climbing out of the ditch. But it won’t truly succeed until we shatter gridlock in Washington.

If your candidate fails on Nov. 8, I hope you will remember that.

Eric Frazier is a columnist for Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. Send comments to