Unemployment is down, wages are up, and business is growing, a bit, the economists say.

So why are so many Americans voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who yell that this nation is heading in the wrong direction, fast and hard?

Because there's not enough prosperity, or belief in it, to go around. "Populism is foremost about economic discontent," as development financier Jeremy Nowak put it in his weekly Philadelphia Citizen column.

Trump and Sanders are winning votes with retreads of familiar arguments from lost elections: that free trade costs Americans factory jobs, that politicians help rich donors and lobbyists, and that neither party cares to solve basic problems such as hospital and school costs, rundown roads, terrorism and cybersecurity, and immigration.

To test those claims about losers, I went to hear a couple of winners.

On April 7 at Salesianum School in Wilmington, in her first public appearance since "retiring" as chair and CEO of DuPont Co. last year, Ellen Kullman was asked whether she thought the growing gap between what bosses like her get paid and what workers earn has contributed to the political "unrest" in the land.

No, said Kullman: Investors, not workers, suffered in the Great Recession. Share prices dropped, wages didn't, she said.

If you aren't paid enough, it's your fault, she added: "Real wages have stagnated because of productivity. Companies are more productive. They can do the same amount of work with less people. The question is, how do you create more long-term value for shareholders?"

Salesianum, a boys' Catholic prep school, says it educates "gentlemen." So nobody was impolite enough to ask Kullman how productive she was while earning $1 million a month to run DuPont, or whether it helped shareholders that she was able to retire with stock grants worth $60 million as her successor closed a deal to break up the company and laid off thousands. Or whether the system that benefits her, benefits them.

But I do know some Sallies parents who plan to vote for Trump on Tuesday in Delaware's Republican primary.

I got to hear William McNabb, Vanguard Group chief executive, Wednesday at the Urban Land Institute's Philadelphia conclave. McNabb reminded us of Vanguard's low-fee conquest of the mutual-fund market. He sketched the bleak days facing tens of millions of Americans who are nearing retirement without guaranteed pensions, trying to stretch their savings for the 30 or 40 years they are expected to last.

That's a teachable moment, McNabb noted: Younger Americans are learning to borrow less, expect less, save more. More of them will likely be Vanguard customers.

He warned of recent wage inflation, at Vanguard and the companies it buys - but chuckled at the bombastic promises of the more radical presidential candidates, who say they'll double U.S. growth. Back on Earth, Vanguard expects growth will be so slow that stock-market returns for the next 10 years will be a historically low 3.5 percent to 5 percent, after inflation.

If McNabb sees our prospects clearly, it's easy to see why so many Americans believe that they have little to hope for from politics as usual.

Of course, CEOs aren't paid big bucks to personally save America, but to enrich their shareholders. When asked, McNabb offered a few solutions: Government should help more firms add worker-paid 401(k) plans, of which Vanguard is the leading provider; rebuild America's aging infrastructure, which he said the government should have done in the recession; and simplify corporate taxes, which "would do more than just about anything to create growth."

I also heard Michael Dolan, an organizer-turned-lobbyist for the Teamsters union, who drove to Philadelphia on Tuesday for a free-trade conference at Drexel University.

The 1.4-million-member Teamsters are against the Obama administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which they say threatens industrial jobs.

The Teamsters point to studies arguing that most of the wealth free trade creates in deals with lower-wage countries doesn't go to American workers, who tend to lose their jobs - and often not to foreign workers, either - but to consumers, and investors who finance trade or own companies in lower-wage areas. This "inequality" of benefits is "unrealistically" ignored by free-trade economists, Dolan said.

But he's encouraged that free trade is again a voters' issue. Trump's and Sanders' opposition shows that both parties are split between "corporatists and populists," Dolan said. Hillary Clinton, too, has backed off free trade: "The front-runners have seen the light."

JoeD@phillynews.com

215-854-5194@PhillyJoeD

www.inquirer.com/phillydeals