President Trump loves to boast about the robust American economy under his administration. He did so at the World Economic Forum and at this year’s State of the Union. At SOTU, Trump said, "From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy... If we hadn't reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success."
This of course is a lie, on at least two levels. First, he isn’t doing much more than continuing the job growth we had under Barack Obama. Indeed, the job growth in each of Obama’s last three years all exceeded Trump’s best year. And second, this “great success” has been the reality mostly for the super-duper rich—with the middle and working class left far behind and living paycheck to paycheck.
Economic inequality in America continues to be on the rise and has become a pivotal campaign issue for Democrats. And it will continue to be at the forefront of the election, which is why, one can assume, Trump is pumping out his false propaganda about the “spectacular economy” at every turn.
Between 2014 and 2018, wage growth in America has been relatively flat, increasing at an average rate of just 1.4 percent per year. For low wage workers, such an increase—only $48.50 a month if people work full-time hours—has not kept up with the rate of inflation.
In California, for example, from 2009 to 2018, the state’s top 5 percent of households saw their inflation-adjusted incomes rise 22.3 percent. Simultaneously, the bottom 20 percent of households saw their incomes drop by 1.8 percent. Given these numbers, economic inequality in California increased at nearly twice the national average. It is worth noting, too, that California is home to nearly half of our nation’s homeless population.
Dan Sanderson, a software engineer from Wisconsin, has an economic reality that is far from spectacular. In fact, it’s giving me major anxiety. According to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Economic Policy Institute and Capital & Main, a nonprofit publication in California that reports on economic issues, real median income growth in Wisconsin slowed to 2.2 percent during the first two years of the Trump administration, compared to a healthier 6.4 percent growth rate for the typical household in the final two years of the Obama administration.
Sanderson makes a healthy middle-class salary but his income growth is not keeping pace with health care, grocery, or housing costs. “Although I’m paid well,” says Sanderson, “I certainly have not kept up with [the] pace of the expenses for me.” He adds he is looking forward to turning 65 this year to be eligible for Medicare. Imagine being this stoked for Medicare!
With the richest 1 percent of Americans now pulling in one-third of the country’s net worth, while the bottom half of the population are subsisting with only 1.2 percent, it’s clear that Trump’s economic policies and tax cuts are geared to boost the coffers of Mar-a-Lago members with complete disregard for middle- and working-class Americans.
Let’s not forget that after Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax overhaul bill was signed in December 2017, the president kicked off his posh Christmas holiday at Mar-a-Lago by telling guests, “You all just got a lot richer,” to cheers and celebration. Maybe we’d applaud too if we were billionaires and could afford Mar-a-Lago’s $200,000 initiation fee and the $14,000 annual membership fee? No, we definitely wouldn’t.
So no, Donald, the economy is not “spectacular” and it’s not “absolutely booming” either. Eighty percent of workers live paycheck to paycheck. I’m a part of an upper-middle-class two-income household, but we’re still moving money around like a damn shell game while hoping that we don’t get sick, the basement doesn’t flood, or our car doesn’t die. The cost of raising a family of five inside the D.C. Beltway is exorbitantly expensive. We’re also two years from sending our oldest to college. How the hell we’re going to swing that one, I have no idea. We do have a 529 college saving account but it’s slow going. Currently there is enough for one child to attend a private college for one year. Thank God she doesn’t want to be a doctor.
Fact: The median household income growth dropped significantly under Trump, including for the poorest Americans who are barely surviving. The poorest American households saw real incomes drop in 13 states and overall had slower growth than under Obama in 36 states. Low-income households—with average earnings of an inconceivable $14,000 a year—saw their inflation-adjusted incomes increase only 2.4 percent under Trump. They grew more than twice as fast, at 5.5 percent, during the final two years of the Obama administration.
This is a tell. The GOP and President Trump don’t give a fig about you, about real working Americans.
The EPI-Capital & Main analysis shows that the increase in real median household income in the last two years of the Obama presidency was more than twice that in Trump’s first two years. Middle-class incomes grew at a rate of 2.7 percent from 2016 to 2018, compared to a 5.8 percent growth rate from 2014 to 2016 when accounting for inflation. This interactive map shows the 48 states where median household income growth fell in Trump’s two years compared to the last two years under Obama.
Aside from the billionaire class, we were unequivocally economically better off under Obama. We might not be able to bring him back, but we can vote Trump out of office. We need a president who cares about inequality and enacts economic policy to the benefit all Americans, and not just the ones who own football teams, have family foundations, or who fly on private jets.