Here’s What the American Dream Has Looked Like Under 9 Different Presidents
“Thanks, Obama” has become one of the most popular catchphrases used to critique the job done by our former commander in chief. Although it was (and still is) used as a snarky way of pointing out former President Barack Obama’s failures, it’s also been embraced by Obama himself to some degree. It’s become a joke of sorts, and given the current level of uncertainty with our new administration, somehow it becomes funnier every day.
Although our presidents do ultimately get the praise or blame for the state of the country, economic or otherwise, it’s debatable to what degree they deserve it. Sure, they’ll end up taking the heat for failed policy measures, such as foreign policy mishaps leading to wars. Or, conversely, they’ll receive praise for a clear (if not underwhelming) economic recovery from a deep recession.
But what about on a more personal, individual level? Can you blame the person in the Oval Office for your financial struggles, employment situation, or even housing costs? To some degree, you could probably make a cogent argument.
A new report from cost information website HowMuch breaks down the effect each president since Richard Nixon has had on income and real estate prices. In other words, did any of our presidents effectively kill the American dream of homeownership.
The report looks at the “median price for a single-family home in the inaugural year of each of the nine most recent U.S. presidents and compares it to the median annual family income at those times. Both prices and wages are adjusted for inflation, i.e. expressed in 2016 dollars.” According to HowMuch, data come from the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Census.
Here are the raw numbers for the nine recent presidents, starting with Nixon in 1969. Which President is your favorite?
1. Richard Nixon
- Average family income: $54,614
- Average home price: $137,988
President Richard Nixon won the 1968 election and was subsequently sworn in in January 1969. He served one complete term and resigned before completing another due to the Watergate scandal. At the time of his inauguration in 1969, average family income was $54,614, with average home prices just under $138,000. Compared to what we’re seeing today, these numbers indicate the American dream was still in reach for the average American.
2. Gerald Ford
- Average family income: $56,652
- Average home price: $160,166
Nixon left office in 1974 after Watergate, and President Gerald Ford took the reins from there. He was sworn in August 1974, at a time where average incomes had increased to more than $56,600. The bad news is average home prices had also increased — and at a faster rate than incomes. Under Ford’s administration, average home prices were more than $160,000. That’s still affordable, generally, but not as much as when Nixon was sworn in.
3. Jimmy Carter
- Average family income: $57,776
- Average home price: $156,836
The average American made some small gains under Ford’s watch. When President Jimmy Carter was elected during the 1976 election and then sworn in in 1977, average incomes topped $57,000. Home prices, on average, were actually down, too, to just under $157,000. Carter would go on to be a one-term president, getting blown out of the water by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 election.
4. Ronald Reagan
- Average family income: $56,708
- Average home price: $170,302
President Ronald Reagan, who served two terms from 1981 until 1989, is largely seen as a president who spurred the economy to great heights. He was a polarizing figure, but Americans did see wage growth under his tenure. In fact, during Reagan’s presidency many Americans saw their average income increase by around $2,500. Average home prices fell during the same time.
5. George H.W. Bush
- Average family income: $63,962
- Average home price: $174,779
President George H.W. Bush was elected after Reagan, and there were some clear gains for the average American by that time. Bush’s inauguration, in 1989, saw average Americans earning almost $64,000 — though home prices had also gone up to an average of nearly $175,000. Still, homeownership and the American dream were largely within reach. Bush buried himself, ultimately, when he raised taxes after famously pledging not to.
6. Bill Clinton
- Average family income: $60,471
- Average home price: $170,911
President Bill Clinton came into office as a Southern Democrat — something relatively rare these days. Incomes had sagged a bit under Bush, with averages at just over $60,000 when Clinton took office. Average home prices had also come down by around $5,000. The Clinton years are remembered fondly now for a robust economy, and after two terms, America had actually managed to balance the federal budget.
7. George W. Bush
- Average family income: $69,687
- Average home price: $195,014
Things really started to look bleak for the American dream under President George W. Bush’s tenure. Two major events happened under his watch: the September 11 terrorist attacks and the financial crisis. Both had a significant impact on the economy. When Bush entered office average American income was just under $70,000, while home prices were around $195,000. When he left, income growth had stagnated and had remained flat. But home prices had shot up to an average of around $240,000.
8. Barack Obama
- Average family income: $67,216
- Average home price: $183,693
President Barack Obama’s election was historic. But he faced a serious crisis upon entering the Oval Office, with America’s Great Recession peaking. Things really haven’t been the same since, though we’ve managed to recover a considerable amount since 2009. The recession took a hit, however, with average incomes sinking to around $67,000. Home prices, under Obama, also came back down to just under $184,000 — and $176,000 by the time he left office.
9. Donald Trump
- Average family income: $68,255
- Average home price: $234,900
We can’t blame (or praise) President Donald Trump for anything yet. The average income figure above is an estimate, assuming a certain rate of inflation, and could change. But home prices have shot back up. “As the Trump era begins, the gap between annual median family income and median single-family house price is just over $166,500, or 2.44 times the median family income,” HowMuch’s report said. In other words, the American dream of homeownership is getting further out of reach.