Unemployment remained stubbornly high throughout the Obama first term leading many to abandon the search for jobs altogether. In 2008, 7.2 million Americans were getting Social Security disability payments. Today, it's 8.7 million, an increase of 20 percent. A normal increase due to population expansion would have been 4 percent. Obama blamed his predecessor, but the steep decline in labor force participation didn't begin until six months into Obama's term. Forbes magazine calculates that if long term discouraged workers, those who've dropped out to collect disability payments, and those working part time because they cannot find full time work were counted, the real unemployment rate would hover around 22 percent.
Medium household incomes fell by more than 8 percent during the Obama first term, an average of $3040 per household, and income inequality grew compared with the Bush years. For African-Americans, the drop in household income was even more dramatic -- 11.1 percent.
Obama talked about the middle class in 2012 for two reasons: 1) because his record left him vulnerable on the subject of poverty, and 2) because Democrats believe that Americans do not like poverty programs. "People are much less inclined to support something that goes toward a targeted population than something that they can benefit from," Rachel Black of the New America Foundation told Politico. This is why Democrats fight tooth and claw to block reforms of Medicare and Social Security that would decrease benefits or increase taxes for wealthier recipients. They believe that the middle class would stop supporting the programs if they were at all means-tested.
But most voters do not disapprove of TANF, Medicaid, Head Start and dozens of other programs aimed at the poor.
Ryan is right to see an opportunity for Republicans in talking about poverty. It might improve the Republican brand in the eyes of all voters. It opens a door to talk about the best anti-poverty program -- economic growth, which has been conspicuously absent under Obama. It also highlights a fact the Democrats want to bury: All Americans are poorer as a result of Obama's policies, but the poor are hit hardest.