In a recent op-ed titled “Trump will leave office with a historically bad economic record,” CNN’s White House correspondent John Harwood argues that placing Trump’s results “alongside those of his predecessors paints a deeply unflattering portrait.” I guess it depends on who is doing the painting.
In reality, President Trump’s economic record is one for which any president would be proud -- and any Democrat would be praised.
First, a little context. The last eight months of the Trump presidency have been severely impacted by a worldwide pandemic. Comparing Trump’s economic record to that of other president’s without factoring in the pandemic is like comparing the number of U.S. combat deaths under President Lincoln to that of other presidents without factoring in the Civil War.
People will debate for decades the effectiveness of economic lockdowns in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but their negative impact on the economy is unquestionable.
Surely we all knew shutting the economy down would kill jobs and reduce economic growth. It’s the height of hypocrisy to support economic lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus and then criticize President Trump for the obvious negative consequences.
For example, let’s take Harwood’s assertion that Trump is the only president since the end of World War II to leave the White House with fewer people employed than when he entered. As of November, there were 2.4 million fewer people employed than in January of 2017.
But, under Trump and before the pandemic, the number of people employed rose to an historic high of nearly 159 million or 6.6 million more than when he took office. Due solely to the pandemic lockdowns, by April that number dropped precipitously by over 25 million people to 133.4 million, the lowest number of people employed since 1999.
Faced with this crisis, Congress and the president acted quickly to protect American workers and businesses. When Congress was unable to act due to partisan divisions, President Trump acted on his own. As a result, while we are still in the midst of the pandemic, we are also in the midst of the most dynamic jobs recovery in U.S. history.
The economy has added back over 16 million jobs since April, a historic high for any seven month period. To give the jobs numbers some perspective, the economy added a total of just under 10 million jobs during President Obama’s entire eight years in office, seven-and-a-half of which were post-recession.
A historic high in the number of people employed followed by a precipitous pandemic induced decline and a historic recovery -- all within seven months -- paints a rather impressive portrait.
Harwood then argues that Trump’s “record offered little legitimate grounds for boasting before the pandemic.” To make that statement, you have to ignore not only the largest number of Americans ever employed but an extensive amount of additional impressive, often record-setting, economic data.
For example, under Trump, job openings exceeded people unemployed for the first time since the government began reporting the data in 2000. That remained the case for 24 consecutive months, most with over 1 million more job openings than people unemployed, a record that may never be matched.
As a result the unemployment rate consistently hit 50-year lows with a record or near record lows for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, people with only a high school education, the handicapped, and veterans.
With the demand for employees high and the supply low, yearly wage growth hit 3 percent or better for 20 consecutive months, a record streak in the data going back to 2007.
As a result, 2019 saw median family income rise a record-high 6.8 percent to a record-high $68,700 while the poverty rate decreased a record high 1.3 percentage points to a record low 10.5 percent lifting over 4.1 million people out of poverty
As for income inequality, it decreased in 2019 for the second year in a row.
So much for Harwood’s claim that Trump failed to close the gap between “the beleaguered blue-collar workers” and the economic elites. Harwood based that claim, in part, on his belief that the rich “benefitted disproportionally from [Trump’s] tax cuts.” It’s a good talking point, but also just wrong.
Let’s look at taxpayers making over $500,000 per year (the top 1 percent of earners). According to the IRS data, in 2018, the first year under the Trump tax cuts, their share of taxable income increased slightly to 22 percent while their share of the tax burden increased significantly to 40 percent.
As a result, the top 1 percent owed $16 billion more in taxes while everyone else owed $80 billion less. Middle-class earners owed $31 billion less and low earners owed $4 billion less.
If this was a tax cut designed to “disproportionally” benefit the wealthy, it was the most poorly designed tax cut in history.
With more Americans working, earning higher wages and paying less in taxes, 2019 had the strongest labor market in modern times and maybe ever. It should be known as “The Year of the Worker.”
Rather than “a deeply unflattering portrait,” 2019 set the standard against which future presidents will be measured and for which any president would be justifiably proud.
You have to ignore, rewrite or repaint a lot of economic history to conclude otherwise.
Andy Puzder was chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants for more than 16 years, following a career as an attorney. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. He was nominated by President Trump to serve as U.S. labor secretary. In 2018, Puzder authored "The Capitalist Comeback: The Trump Boom and the Left's Plot to Stop It" (Center Street). His latest piece, a Broadside by Encounter Books titled, “It’s Time to Let America Work Again” was released on July 20, 2020.