Just How Good Is Trump's Economy, Anyway?

Author:Rugy, Veronique De

IF DONALD TRUMP has his way in November's presidential election, he'll coast to victory on the strength of the economy.

The U.S. job market, President Trump tweeted in September, currently has its "all time best unemployment numbers, especially for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians & Women." Those numbers, which only grew stronger in the final months of the year, followed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the 2017 law that Trump has, with typical hyperbole, described as "the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history."

Even as the president faced a trial in the U.S. Senate, the stock market was up, unemployment was down, and average families were earning more than ever before. The week the Senate held its final vote in the impeachment trial, he delivered a State of the Union address that opened with an extended brag about the strength of the nation's economy, which he called "the best it has ever been." That is why Trump's 2020 campaign message can be condensed into a single tweet: "How do you impeach"--or in the electoral case, beat--"a President who has helped create perhaps the greatest economy in the history of our Country?"

For his Democratic rivals, the answer is to downplay the economy's gains or to deny its strength altogether. At one Democratic primary debate last year, candidates were asked what they would say to a voter who dislikes Trump but likes his economy. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I--Vt.) rejected the premise, saying that for ordinary people, the economy "ain't great." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D--Mass.) dismissed economic gains as a "rise in corporate profits" that are "not being felt by millions of families across the country." Former Vice President Joe Biden insisted, "The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed."

In the run-up to the 2020 election, then, even the economy has become a partisan issue. As Amber Wichowsky, a political scientist at Marquette University who has studied how economic issues affect voters' political views, recently told The New York Times, "Partisans have a strong desire to interpret the economy in a way that benefits their 'team.'"

YET THERE ARE real, nonpartisan answers to be found in the countless economic data points that paint a picture of America's economic health. And those data tell us that in many respects, the state of our economy is strong in ways that can be attributed to Trump administration policies. The stock indices are at historic highs. JPMorgan Chase predicts another 8 percent increase in the value of the S&P 500 in 2020 as the economy "reaccelerates." Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs Research forecasts steady U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2.3 percent through this year.

At the same time, the economy has notable weaknesses--some of which are a product of Trump's actions as well. In short, neither simple partisan narrative tells the full story.


THE JOB SITUATION under Trump is a clear success. The unemployment rate just hit a 50-year low, real wages are up, and job creation looks good--especially when compared with expectations. In its latest forecast before the 2016 election, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the economy would add 1.9 million jobs in the next three years. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the first 35 months of the Trump administration saw the economy add almost 6.7 million jobs, beating the forecast by more than 350 percent.

That figure should be kept in perspective. As it happens, during the same period in President George W. Bush's second term, the economy gained 6 million jobs. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, during the first 35 months of President Barack Obama's second term, the economy added 6.8 million jobs.

Overall, though, Trump's numbers are very good, especially considering that the economy is in its 11th straight year of expansion. That's no small achievement: The longer an expansion lasts, the harder it is to add jobs. And during the last 50 years, the economy has experienced a contraction, on average, every seven years. Under...

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