If Australians told the truth about their wealth, wages, and standard of living, confidence would be much higher

Commsec is 20 years old. Yes, that went quickly.

But as Commsec chief economist Craig James wrote in his retrospective last week, “sometimes it pays to look back and recognise where we have come from, what has changed and what has been achieved. And in the case of Australia’s key economic and financial indicators, the exercise is a very positive one.”

Indeed it is.

James says over the past 20 years:

Consumer prices have increased by just over 67%, but that has been more than exceeded by the average wage, which has more than doubled – lifting by 128% from almost $33,000 to almost $77,000. That increase in real wages has boosted purchasing power and consumers have also benefited from the fact that the relative cost of essentials like food, clothing, household goods and transport have fallen over time.

So, not only do we earn more and it buys more than our wages did 20 years ago. More stuff.

But while we can be pretty happy that our wages growth was faster than inflation, and buys more, our wealth has grown at an even faster pace again. James says that “while the average wage has more than doubled over the past 20 years, wealth has more than tripled.”

That’s a function of “higher returns on shares and property.” and it’s seen per capita wealth rise from around $97,000 in 1995, to more than $340,000 at the moment.

Home owners, and those who concentrated their wealth in real estate have done spectacularly well. James wrote that “Over the past 20 years, an index measuring total returns on property has lifted around eight times while the index of total returns on shares (All Ordinaries Accumulation index) is six times higher than 20 years ago.”

To reiterate, both the stock of money, our wealth, and the flow of money, our wages, have increased materially.

Which means that based on James’ figures it’s hard to understand why Australians remain so inherently pessimistic.

Take last week’s Westpac consumer sentiment survey for example. Westpac reported that the index fell 3.2% to 92.2. That’s the lowest level since December 2014 and continues the stretch of relatively weak sentiment outcomes to 15 of the last 17 prints coming out below 100.

That is also reflected in the NAB Wellbeing report released this morning which showed that, “anxiety is still the biggest detractor of wellbeing – almost 40% of Australians rate their anxiety “high”.”

You can’t argue with the way people feel. It’s just the way they feel.

But sometimes a look back, a little perspective, and some honesty might help us recognise Australia and Australians haven’t and aren’t doing too badly.

We’re just not going along as well as we’d like.

Here’s Commsec’s table of how all the key indicators have moved over the past 20 years.

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