No, Trump Hasn’t Been Great for the Economy
First things first: No single person, not even a president, is solely responsible for the US economy. There are thousands of variables at play, including natural disasters, downturns in other countries, and technological shifts.
But that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from repeatedly taking credit.
So is it true? Has Trump been great for the economy?
Let’s look at the data.
The Stock Market
When it comes to the stock market, Trump is somewhat right to boast: The stock market rallied in a big way from 2017 to 2018. Since then, however, it’s been up and down.
The big problem here, though, is that the stock market is not the economy. Instead, it’s a measure of how the richest 10% of Americans are doing, as they’re the ones who own 84% of stocks.
So, how have majority of Americans — the other 90%—fared in the past four years? That’s the economy.
Things haven’t been great.
Trump supporters say he’s been great for unemployment, but here’s the truth: In the three years prior to Trump, the unemployment rate dropped 2 percentage points. In Trump’s first three years it slowed, dropping only 1.2 percentage points. After Covid-19, as shown below, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
The slowing unemployment rate has had real effects, and some former Trump supporters have taken notice. For instance, when Ohio was hit hard with manufacturing job losses in 2019, Trisha Amato said she’d had enough. She could no longer support Trump. “I honestly thought he stood for what I did,” she said. I thought it was good that he wasn’t a lifetime politician. I thought he was going to make changes. And he’s just created a lot of chaos.”
Trump used to boast that unemployment was lower. What he didn’t explain is that it was just following the same trend it had under Obama, at a slower rate.
Trump loves to talk about how he’s going to bring manufacturing back. And yet even before Covid-19 hit, manufacturing under Trump barely budged, then plateaued, as shown below.
“Bringing manufacturing back” means bringing us back to levels seen in the 1990s. We’re nowhere close to that.
Susan Cropper, a manufacturing worker, describes the situation this way: “I thought he was going to save some jobs,” she says. “He pulled the wool right over our eyes and he’s still doing it till this day … Not only did I lose my job, now I’m not going to work long enough to build another retirement somewhere else.”
The same is true of people who worked in coal jobs, which likewise didn’t come back:
What’s more, the deficit increased far more under Trump in his first three years compared to the previous three years under Obama. And since Covid-19, the deficit has exploded to unprecedented levels — enough to make the 2009 deficit increase look paltry.
Wages and Other Indicators
The same is true of a range of economic indicators, even before Covid-19:
- Wages remained stagnant
- GDP growth slowed
- The cost of rent shot up
- Nearly 200,000 US jobs moved overseas
- And coal jobs, which are weirdly a major focus in political campaigns, hit an all-time low.
Other indicators plateaued before Covid-19, and then plummeted:
Not Great Again
Again, we can’t pin all of this—positive or negative—solely on Donald Trump. Hypothetically, there could be a time where the president did everything perfectly right and yet all economic indicators were down. The economy is bigger than any single person, even a president.
But what’s frustrating in this case is that Trump constantly touts the stock market as proof that he’s been “great for the economy” and his supporters believe it—all while the economy as a whole collapses.
We should expect nothing less from a guy who pretended to be a businessman on TV while behind the scenes he repeatedly went bankrupt. We should expect nothing less from someone who told Forbes he was 20 times richer than he actually was to get on their list.
If you made $50,000 a year and convinced people you were 20x richer, they’d think you were a millionaire. In reality, you’d just be a con artist.
We should stop falling for the con.