‘Jumbled mess’: The Bidenomics brand leaves nearly everyone — including Biden — baffled At the beginning, the president was reluctant to embrace the term, but he continues to make his economic policies central to his re-election pitch.


No one seems to like “Bidenomics,” the eponymous shorthand for Joe Biden’s economic policies — not voters, not Democratic officials, not even, at times, the president himself.

It’s a term that mystifies Americans and confounds even its namesake. “I don’t know what the hell that is,” Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia earlier this year.

In a September focus group with Pennsylvania swing voters, one participant told the research firm Engagious that the concept was a “jumbled mess,” adding that “it’s really hard to explain.”

Biden is undeterred — at least for now. He has made the state of the nation's economy a central rationale of his re-election pitch, touting “Bidenomics” at events across the country. He talks about rapid job growth and billions of dollars in spending for roads, bridges, and renewable energy projects on his watch.

Appearing in Minnesota last week, Biden described Bidenomics as “the American Dream” — twice in the same speech.

The trouble is, people aren’t buying it. Just as the phrase hasn’t caught on despite a low jobless rate, the underlying policies that Bidenomics purports to describe have left voters cold, polling shows. A Gallup survey in September showed that 48% of adults rated economic conditions as “poor,” the highest share in a year.

A University of Michigan monthly survey of attitudes toward the economy found that 20% of consumers expressed that their personal finances had deteriorated between Biden’s inauguration and September of this year.

More meaningful to Americans than the overall economic growth that Biden celebrates may be the stubborn reality that average food prices in U.S. cities have risen 20% since Biden took office. Or that the average price for a gallon of gas is $3.44 — less than it was a year ago but still about one-third higher than the pre-pandemic level.

Inflation has been cooling, down from a 40-year-high of 9% last year to less than 4%, but memories of high prices remain all too fresh, economists say.

“We’ve had quite significant inflation reduction while maintaining a tight labor market,” Jared Bernstein, chairman of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “And that’s been extremely welcome. At the same time, people want to hear about falling prices, because they remember what prices were, and they want their old prices back.”

Tethering the Biden name to a cluster of economic policies that may take years to fully kick in was a gamble from the start, Democratic strategists say. It personalizes economic conditions that are not necessarily under a president’s control.

“Whoever came up with the slogan Bidenomics should be fired,” said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak more freely. “It’s probably the worst messaging you could ever imagine.”

It was actually the news media that first coined the term early in Biden’s presidency. When Biden and his advisers discussed whether to embrace it, the president was initially reluctant, two people familiar with internal White House discussions said. He worried that “Bidenomics” could backfire against him if the economy were to sour, one of the people said.

“I can understand that,” Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said when asked about Biden’s unease with the term. “I don’t like it either.”

“The people that he [Biden] stands for don’t deal with economics,” added Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden before the 2020 Democratic primary in South Carolina revived his candidacy and propelled him to the party nomination. “They deal with day-to-day issues. They have to educate their children and feed their families and develop their communities — and that doesn’t sound like ‘Bidenomics.’”

Maybe the only ones lapping up the term are Biden’s opponents. Republican candidates seem unified in the conviction that “Bidenomics” is a winning argument — for them. Rep. Dean Phillips, the Minnesota Democrat who launched a primary challenge to Biden last month, has placed Bidenomics in his crosshairs.

Speaking to reporters recently on his campaign bus in New Hampshire, Phillips said that “people are suffering and they don't give a hoot about monikers and names and taglines. ... I would just ask the American people, how are they doing? And the truth is, they’re really struggling.”

As often as Biden trots out the term, he has yet to give it a succinct definition. Bidenomics may be the American dream, but it’s also “about making things in rural America again,” he told the audience in Minnesota.

In speeches throughout the year, he has depicted Bidenomics as the antidote to low wages, the catalyst for manufacturing jobs, and the path to profitability for small businesses.

Heather Boushey, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, posted a 16-message thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, last month, explaining Bidenomics with the help of charts, graphs, and color-coded maps.

“We’ll keep tracking these data but the story so far is remarkable: Bidenomics is building a better, fairer economy that responds to our challenges with bold action and grows the economy from the middle out and the bottom up,” she concluded.

Biden’s television advertising has thus far avoided the term Bidenomics, but has focused heavily on component pieces aimed at improving peoples’ day-to-day lives. The ads discuss lowering prescription drug costs, making renewable energy affordable, and passing new laws that boost American manufacturing jobs.

Ad campaigns take time to sink in, but Biden’s sluggish approval ratings suggest this one has a way to go. Biden’s likely challenger in the 2024 general election, former President Donald Trump, is running about even in head-to-head polling despite his myriad legal troubles.

“Originally, I would have said we didn’t repeat it enough,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said of Bidenomics. “I would have said we weren’t visible enough out there. I would have said we didn’t put enough advertising. But we’ve done all of that, and it still doesn’t break through.”

Biden campaign aides see signs that its ads are working. One spot featuring a Black farmer grateful for Biden’s spending in rural communities ranked in the top 80th percentile of ads tested when it came to voters’ choice of candidates, said a senior campaign aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk freely.

With the election a full year away, the campaign’s ad program isn’t focused on moving poll numbers, the aide added. At this point, the campaign is testing various messages to see which ones are effective, positioning itself for the general election race to come, the aide said. Themes that don’t stick with voters can always be discarded in favor of ones that do.

Still, some Democrats wouldn’t mind seeing Biden’s poll numbers climb. “Yes, I’m concerned about that, sure,” Clyburn said.

Does the campaign have a strategy to address that? “Well, I hope,” he added.

Inside Democratic circles, there’s a nagging concern that the party may be fighting old wars. A refrain of Democratic politics is that elections hinge on the economy and other issues pale in comparison. “It’s the economy stupid,” James Carville famously said during Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential bid.

But that sort of thinking predated Trump, a candidate unlike any other Democrats have faced. Trump allies have been devising plans to expand presidential power by converting nonpartisan civil servants into at-will employees who owe their jobs directly to the president. He has questioned the value of bedrock U.S. alliances. He now faces two criminal cases centered on his efforts to overturn the 2020 election along with two more criminal cases involving other matters. Economic policy isn’t the terrain on which to battle Trump, some pro-Biden Democrats say.

“The circus and the show that Donald Trump puts on is not a match for talking economic policy,” said Michael LaRosa, a former press secretary to first lady Jill Biden. “In 2016, any time Hillary [Clinton] talked about the economy, control rooms panned to empty podiums at Trump rallies because it was better television.”

“‘Bidenomics’ is just not sexy for the media to cover or simple enough for voters to digest, especially if they don’t see it or feel it,” he added.

Others counseled patience. At this early point in the race, Biden can afford to spend time reminding voters of bills passed and steps taken to revive the economy after the pandemic, said Jim Messina, who managed Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. There will be ample time to focus on Trump should he become the GOP nominee.

“Hammering away at Trump every day is just not as helpful as trying to tell them all the things Biden did,” Messina said. “He [Biden] did all these historic things. People don’t know it yet, and they’ve got to take this year to drive that.”

Melissa Schofield hadn’t accepted a job offer for 18 years.

When she started thinking about returning to work, she knew that nearly two decades away could seem like a long time for employers.

But during her break from the workforce, Schofield earned a master’s degree, took on ad-hoc consulting gigs, and managed a household of seven—so she was sure of what she brought to the table.

However, she also knew that while she was ready to get back to work, she needed a job that would accommodate responsibilities like picking up and dropping off her kids at daycare, so a remote or hybrid set-up would be important. 

Two months ago, Schofield started working as an account executive at reinsurance broker Gallagher RE. She works from home three days a week and commutes into the company’s London office for the other two days. For her, the option to work part of her job remotely nudged her to return to the world of work. 

Career returners each have their own unique reasons for stepping back from work and eventually returning. These reasons range from caring for children or other relatives, higher education, health, travel or simply to catch a break and resetting one’s batteries, Women Returners found.

And for many like Schofield, flexible work arrangements offer a great path for women as they reintegrate into the workforce.

“I think if I hadn’t got that flexible working, I wouldn’t have come back,” Schofield told Fortune. “It’s given me a lot of confidence, really, that I can work because I can juggle it, and I think it just makes my whole work-life balance so much better.”

Hybrid work enables a return to work

Organizations like U.K.-based Women Returners train women who have gaps on their resumes and help them connect with a network of other women who’ve had similar experiences.  

Julianne Miles runs Women Returners, which has been around for almost 10 years and counts 9,000 women in its professional network today. In Miles’s view, the proliferation of remote work as a viable option has been a game-changer for women on career breaks. 

“Remote and hybrid working models that developed during and after the pandemic have been a great enabler for many women to get back to work—particularly those who have continuing child care and elder care commitments,” Miles told Fortune.

Career breaks are becoming more common. Last year, LinkedIn recognized it as a category of its own for users’ profiles, helping to normalize the concept irrespective of the reason that may be driving it. For their part, employers are rising to the occasion by offering career re-entry programs—40% of Fortune 500 companies offer some version of such schemes, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Women are inherently central to the discussion because they are more likely to take career breaks than men, often for caregiving reasons. This can go on to have implications on how they’re perceived in the workplace as well as their career progression when they return. Auditing firm PwC found that the “motherhood penalty,” wherein women’s lifetime earnings are dented due to their childcare responsibilities, was the main reason for deepening gender pay gaps across OECD countries.

Ensuring women have smooth transitions back into the workforce after career breaks could help unlock billions of dollars worth of untapped potential—and hybrid work could be key to achieving it, according to Miles. The normalization of the use of tech tools for virtual meetings and workplace collaboration have also helped make the transition seamless, the BBC reported in September.

“Hybrid work has definitely made it a lot easier for many women to think about how they logistically get back to work,” Miles told Fortune, adding that some returners have also been able to widen their job search areas, opening up more opportunities for them in their job hunt.

Hybrid work can help with perception

One of the challenges women face when returning to work is winning confidence from others in their ability to take on a new role, as career gaps can sometimes be misconstrued as a sign that someone lacks ambition. That’s where the option of remote work can be critical, says Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO of Flexa—a platform that aims to offer transparency to job-seekers on companies offering workplace flexibilityAbout 76% of Flexa’s users are women, some of whom are career returners. 

“Naturally you’re going to feel like you’re on your back foot because you haven’t been in the workforce for the past few years, perception will be everything and you don’t want to be perceived as less committed or working less hard just because you’ve taken that career break,” Johnson-Jones said. 

“[Offering] remote work automatically means that a company is likely to accept that flexibility, and be more culturally set up to be able to support it.”

Career gaps can be a result of choice or circumstance, but what women did in their time away can be indicative of the employees they can be when they return. Lucy Kallin, EMEA executive director at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that aims to help build workplaces that work for women, says smart companies use flexible work as an attraction and retention tool for employees. If anything, she argues, women returning from career breaks—especially if taken for childcare reasons—will have gained skills that are valuable in a professional setting.

“The experience that they’re bringing, you can’t just buy it at a cheaper rate because you’re doing them a favor by bringing them back,” Kallin told Fortune in an interview, adding that returners can show stronger soft skills like communication and empathy. “You’re not doing them [women returners] a favor.”

Schofield is a case in point—the many things she did during her career break included homeschooling two of her four children, as well as taking on projects in her local area that needed her to exercise her consulting muscles.

“I think my career gap shows how driven I am,” Schofield said.

But opting for remote work in companies that have largely in-person operations can sometimes raise concerns about proximity bias, where leaders treat employees who are physically present around them more favorably. This can trickle down to the promotions and pay raises people receive if they opt for a more flexible arrangement, even if they are more productive. 

“Leaders tend to think that in-office workers are better performers, they tend to see them as more likely to be promoted. So, there’s a risk that if women are taking advantage of remote work more often because they’re expected to be responsible for so many different things outside of work, they may end up suffering in terms of their career progression,” Caitlin Duffy, research director at Gartner HR, told Fortune.

However, as more companies are beginning to work with employees on creating hybrid work arrangements, they will actively try to focus on the output of employees rather than their office presence as a marker for their performance, Kallin and Johnson-Jones said. 

The fact still remains that women continue to bear the responsibility of the primary caregiver, which means that calls to return to the office can disproportionately impact their career progression. However, when remote work is an option—for both men and women—experts say there is a greater sense of shared responsibility between parents and caregivers. Flexa’s Johnson-Jones believes that if hybrid or flexible work is uniformly offered as an option without arduous request processes, men and women be more likely to split their household responsibilities equally. 

“Flexible work is good for both men and women because it helps us move towards gender equality,” she said. 

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