Consider the growth rate in the quarter century after World War II. From 1947 to 1973, real GDP grew by 4 percent per year, with real family income rising nearly 3 percent per year. This is the growth spurt that really created the American mass middle class.
But after the early 1970's growth slowed significantly, down to a 2.7 percent rate between 1973 and 2011, with of course a massive spike in inequality. And since 2000, growth has been particularly slow, just 1.6 percent per year (this figure incidentally matches the growth rate so far this year). It is difficult for most Americans to move ahead very fast in this constrained economic environment, particularly an economically disadvantaged group like Latinos.
So why isn't Obama attacking the growth problem head on in this campaign with a clear, specific program to promote growth? Wednesday's debate with Mitt Romney was just the latest time in the campaign where he passed on an opportunity to do so. The reason is not mysterious: it's politically difficult to put forward such specifics in a campaign context. A call for an immediate increase in government spending, however justified in economic terms, would be quite controversial. And even the president's long-range plans on education, infrastructure, and energy, while individually popular, would invite criticism for their costs.
That is fine for now in the sense that Obama can probably retain Hispanics' support in this election without highlighting specific plans for immediate and sustainable growth. The economy is still recovering, albeit slowly, and these voters give him credit for getting the country out of a deep economic crisis that they largely blame on his predecessor. Plus, he can talk about his general budgetary and policy priorities, which are broadly popular, in contrast to Romney's priorities (tax cuts for the rich, massive spending cuts, voucherizing Medicare and rolling back financial regulations), which are broadly unpopular. Obama may not be offering a specific plan for growth but Romney's approach strikes many Latino voters as a retread of the policies that tanked the economy to begin with.
Given this dynamic, the Obama campaign is likely right that it would lose more than it would gain by specifying a growth plan. But that doesn't make growth any less necessary—a reality that Obama will have to confront if he is reelected. If he does not figure out a way to ignite growth and keep it going, his Hispanic support will probably erode significantly.
A second Obama administration would therefore be well advised to make economic growth its number one priority from the moment of his inauguration. If deals have to be cut with the GOP, it should be with that priority in mind; a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction that does nothing for growth is a political loser. Obama will get little credit for the deficit reduction and plenty of blame for the lack of growth. And the opportunity to consolidate Hispanic support at a very high level will be lost.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC/Univision.