Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton outlines her vision for a stronger America and offers a commitment to build an economy that she says will work for everyone Getty Images / File photo June 2016

The guys who change the toilet refuse on private jets landing at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida earn $12 per hour, while the guys who move these $100m aircraft in and out of their hangars earn only $1 more at $13 an hour. This is a peculiar calculation of reward versus responsibility and provides almost no incentive for the refuse workers in Palm Beach to allocate their time and dollars to train-up so that they can be promoted and valet park expensive airplanes owned by the rich and famous, including Donald Trump and Michael Jordan.

"Why the heck would I do that? I do my 8 hours and go home!" one of the workers at the Florida private airport told me.

In either case, those earning $12 or $13 an hour say it does not represent a living wage and it is the build-up of this frustration that is continually echoed across the USA. Employers benefit from an indirect corporate welfare system that compels employees to supplement their hourly wages with welfare handouts and government aid programmes.

Bizarrely, it is the poor-paying jobs and not unemployment that is squeezing the lifeblood from the US welfare system. That is one key finding from a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, which showed that the majority of households receiving government assistance are headed by a working adult.

The study found that 56% of federal and state dollars spent between 2009 and 2011 on welfare programmes — including Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit — flowed to working families and individuals with jobs. In some industries, about half the workforce relies on welfare. These are not statistics that you would typically link to the economic map of a global superpower.

It is this under-utilisation of labour and what now appears to be institutionalised flat income levels that is driving a great deal of the anger fermenting on the US presidential election campaign trail. As it turns out, these are also the two key data points that the US Federal Reserve is monitoring as they debate when and how fast to raise interest rates.

After pushing through a landmark rise in short-term interest rates in December 2015, Fed Chair Janet Yellen has since spelt out a cautious approach to monetary policy as a result of concerns about Chinese growth and low US inflation expectations.

However, a cautious policy does little to turn down the noise on country-wide guessing game – will it be this month, or next? The continual uncertainty exacerbates the financial frustration of those desperately seeking solutions to their undesirable balance sheets. Daily newspaper headlines hinting at rising interest rates do not help.

While the macro stats show the US economy at being close to full employment, the numbers of barking crowds at Trump (and Sanders) rallies over the last six months would indicate that while many may fit the definition of being employed, they are still struggling and will no longer be content with business as usual political platitudes. Saying the system is working loudly over speaker phones does not mean the system is indeed working. While numbers do not lie, they equally do not tell the whole story.

The Republican Party nominee Donald Trump's ploy to tackle this conundrum is to "Make America Great Again", while the Democratic pall-bearer Hillary Clinton has been reassuring all that she is "Fighting for Us." Each rallying cry speaks of the need for change and the need to abandon today's status quo, but surely America has heard this before?

Against today's backdrop of cynicism, the successful candidate will have to forge a way through the "Why the Heck" frustration of unskilled labour by first knocking down their walls of political reluctance. On the ground you can feel the classic great American service mentality hardening, with rare smiles available at the counters of the hourly wagers — "have a nice day" replaced by "I serve you only as much as I have to".

While the political ducking and diving continues, Hillary Clinton has made history as the first woman ever in the 240-year history of America to emerge as the presumptive nominee for one of the country's two major political parties. Perhaps she would do well to dust off the playbook from her husband's first run for the White House a quarter century ago, which was built on the back of a strategy focused on "It's the Economy, Stupid!"


Sean Evers is the Founder and Managing Partner of Dubai, UAE-based strategic consultancy Gulf Intelligence. In the run up to the 2016 US Presidential Election, Sean will be authoring a series of articles for the International Business Times scrutinising America's socioeconomic challenges and the response of both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to economic demands of the electorate.