Good times for ‘working families’

During the week, the relentlessly on-message Kevin Rudd repeated his lines about ‘working families’:

The other big challenge is offering help to working families under financial pressure. Mr Howard just said he understood that, well that’s the same Mr Howard who said that working families had never been better off.

And the ACNielsen poll at the end of the week suggests that the public believes him, with 59% agreeing with the proposition that ‘John Howard has lost touch with working families’.

It’s not often that I agree with Clive Hamilton, or he with John Howard, but the Australia Institute has published some interesting ABS and HILDA-based research on just how well ‘working families’ are doing (as usual with Hamilton’s work, it gets a good report in Fairfax papers).

On average, the real disposable income of couples with kids went up 40% in real terms between 1994-95 and 2005-06, considerably more than the 28% increase recorded across the whole population. There were above-average increases across all the income quintiles for couples with kids, with the lowest gain of 35% in the second-highest quintile. General prosperity and very generous family benefits from the ‘out of touch’ Howard mean that, financially at least, families never have had it so good.

The working families doing-it-tough message is, I think, the key mistake of the Labor campaign. Not that it will harm the ALP’s immediate electoral prospects – to the contrary, it will probably add seats to their likely victory – but it is creating expectations that cannot be met, not even with the me-too tax cuts. Though ‘working families’ will almost certainly on average be even more affluent in three years than they are now, Rudd is fanning such an inflated sense of entitlement that ‘working families’ will be disappointed with their gains.