In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, which is the bigger story?
1. The Census reported on Sept. 13 that median household income had risen by a stunning 5.2 percent in 2015. The economic gains were seen in all parts of the country, and were stronger for those at the lower end of the income scale than for wealthy families. The poverty rate is shrinking, and so is income inequality. The new numbers show the economic recovery is finally paying off for the middle class.
2. Five days later, a mentally disturbed and ideologically radicalized man set off homemade bombs in New York and New Jersey, causing minor injuries and major hysteria.
In terms of media play, there's no contest. The good news on the economy passed by, barely noticed, in a single news cycle. A week later, we were still seeing daily updates on bombings, even though the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was quickly arrested after he was found sleeping in the doorway of a New Jersey bar.
There are reasons for the discrepancy in coverage. Good news doesn't sell as many papers or attract as many viewers or clicks as bad news. The release of economic data doesn't come with compelling video.
But what's curious is the political impact of the good news on jobs and income, or rather, its lack of impact.
In 1992, the mantra of Bill Clinton's campaign was "It's the economy, stupid." In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan asked "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
No one's asking that now, and if they were, the answer from most Americans, if we are to believe the data, would be "yes."
Four years ago, Mitt Romney made the ambitious promise to get unemployment below 6 percent in his first term. Under Obama, the economy overshot that mark and more. The unemployment rate now stands at 4.9 percent. In Massachusetts, where I live, it's 3.9 percent.
But good news doesn't seem to register in a campaign that's all about grievances. Even when strategies candidates are proposing show success - raising the minimum wage in some cities and states, for instance, has helped reduce the poverty rate, while higher taxes on the wealthy have reduced income inequality - the progress is mostly unacknowledged.
It doesn't fit either candidate's narrative. Donald Trump sees gloom everywhere he looks.
Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by trying to match the outrage Bernie Sanders expressed over the tyranny of the one percent and the economic victimization of nearly everyone else. Instead of promising to continue the incremental progress made by a Democratic president, she's still bad-mouthing the recovery.
Moreover, because the Electoral College puts so much power in a few battleground states, you'd think the only voters who count are manufacturing workers displaced by global trade and coal miners displaced by Americans pumping natural gas and installing solar panels.
Where I live, we lost thousands of manufacturing jobs decades ago - but mostly to low-wage states of the American South, not to Mexico or China. We didn't declare a trade war and we didn't whine. We invested in education and infrastructure, encouraging the growth of "knowledge sector" jobs in health care, medical research, software, alternative energy and the kind of advanced manufacturing that requires high skills and specialized training. Instead of building walls to keep global competition out, Massachusetts companies build products we sell around the world.
If elections really were all about the economy, we could have a great debate on which policies create shared prosperity and which don't.
But economic success doesn't carry any weight because politics is no longer about the economy. Today, voters make their choices based on fear, identity politics, partisanship and the caricatures of the candidates painted by an increasingly opinionated media.
We've divided into political tribes that see the world through distinctly different glasses. A Pew Research Center poll in August found that 81 percent of Trump supporters think life in America was better 50 years ago, while 59 percent of Clinton supporters think we're better off today. Two-thirds of Trump supporters say things will be even worse for future generations; 38 percent of Clinton supporters - and half of all voters - agree.
American politics has always been short on substance, I guess, but this year's campaign seems especially heavy on dog whistles and nostalgia. However depressing our choices seem, there's some comfort to be found in the dry numbers of the Census report. Most people really are better off than they were four years ago, and there's no good reason things can't be even better four years from now.
-- Rick Holmes writes for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co., and follow him @HolmesAndCo.