Presidential candidates always promise economic improvements that are beyond their power to deliver. Any measures that actually could create more jobs, raise wages or lower tax burdens require the cooperation of Congress or business cycles or both.
Even if a president could lead us to the promised land of rising incomes and wealth, we wouldn’t get there overnight. America’s middle class has been wandering the economic desert for decades, and it will take years of better fortunes to restore what’s been taken away.
That doesn’t mean you have to wait. It does mean you should do what you can to improve your own personal fortunes rather than wait for some politician to bail you out.
Here’s what you might do:
Get a raise. Median incomes finally increased in 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau says, after eight years of falling or stagnating.
If your income hasn’t increased, it might be time to ask for a raise or look for a better job. With unemployment at 5 percent, your prospects are likely better than when joblessness peaked at 10 percent in October 2009.
Contribute to a retirement plan. A comfortable retirement requires investing year in and year out, regardless of who’s president.
If you don’t have a workplace plan, you can make deductible contributions to an individual retirement account. Several providers, including Ameritrade, Betterment, ETrade, Fidelity, Merrill Edge and Vanguard, allow you to open IRAs with no minimum investment.
Build some equity. More than 3 million homes are still under water, worth less than their mortgage, according to research by CoreLogic.
Another troubling trend is the number of people entering retirement age who still owe money on their homes: 30 percent in 2013, compared with 22 percent in 2001, according to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analysis of Census Bureau data.
A paid-off home not only reduces your expenses in retirement, but also serves as an asset you can tap for income if needed. Consider making extra principal payments to get your mortgage paid off faster.
Taking positive action can help you deal with uncertainty by focusing on what you can control, rather than what you can’t, says consumer expert and radio host Clark Howard.
“You are excusing or minimizing your own role in your financial picture if your focus is mostly on the person elected to office,” Howard said.
DITCH TOXIC DEBT
It’s a myth that most Americans carry credit card debt. If you’re among the 42.1 percent of U.S. adults who don’t always pay off your balance, it’s time to start. If you have good credit scores, you can qualify for low-rate balance transfer offers that can help you pay off your debt faster. If you’re struggling, consult both a bankruptcy attorney and a nonprofit agency affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to understand your options.