Owen Ullmann, Opinion contributor
Published 3:15 a.m. ET Aug. 25, 2020
Métis people The numbers don’t lie: Obama’s economic record is just as good
As the Republican National Convention makes its case to the American public this week, we’ll be hearing a lot from President Trump and his surrogates about his genius as a manager of the nation’s economy.
True, the coronavirus pandemic sent the economy crashing into a downturn unlike anything we’ve experienced since the Great Depression nearly a century before. But the virus wasn’t his doing, and he’ll make the case — as he has numerous times before — that he had engineered the best economy ever before the pandemic struck.
Until the pandemic spread, “we were going in a direction like we had never seen — the most successful economy in the history of our country, the best unemployment numbers in history,” Trump declared Monday in a speech during a surprise visit to the scaled-back convention that opened in Charlotte on Monday.
Voters tend to believe his claims based on numerous polls that show he trails Democratic opponent Joe Biden in overall support but tops his rival on the question of who would do a better job managing the economy.
So, regardless of your political preference, it’s worth taking an objective look at Trump’s economic track record and see how it compares with his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
To keep the numbers in proper context, you need to remember that Obama came into office in 2009 at the depth of the Great Recession, while Trump took charge in 2017, when the economy had already set a record for consecutive monthly job growth. And to be fair to Trump, negative economic numbers attributed to the coronavirus –- the loss of a record 25 million jobs and plunging economic activity during a national lockdown in March and April — won’t be included in this analysis.
- Employment. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the economy created 6,979,000 jobs during Obama’s final three years in office, as civilian employment grew from 145,150,000 in January 2014 to 152,129,000 in January 2017.
In Trump’s first three years through this past January, the economy added 6,585,000 jobs to a total of 158,714,000. That’s 394,000 fewer under Trump than under Obama during a similar time span. Given the size of the national workforce, that difference is negligible. (Note: of the 25 million jobs lost in the spring, only 10 million have come back through July, according to BLS reports.
- Economic growth: During Obama’s final three years, the economy (inflation-adjusted gross domestic product) grew 2.5% in 2014, 3.1% in 2015 and 1.7% in 2016, or an average of 2.43%, according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Under Trump, the economy grew 2.3% in 2017, 3.0% in 2018 and 2.2% in 2019, for an average of 2.5% a year. That’s an insignificant gain of just below one-tenth of a percent per year under Trump, who came into office promising to produce an economy that would sprint ahead at a 4% annual pace or even higher.
- Wage growth: During Obama’s final three years in office through January 2017, hourly earnings adjusted for inflation grew 3.3%, according to BLS figures. During Trump’s first three years, inflation-adjusted hourly earnings grew an identical 3.2%.
- Stock market: Trump continually cites the booming stock market during his presidency as investors’ endorsement of his economic prowess. Indeed, even in the midst of pandemic, new records have been set by the S&P 500 Index, considered the best measure of stock performance if not economic well-being in a nation in which only about half of us own stock.
During Trump’s presidency, the S&P 500 climbed 51%, from a close of 2,271.31 on Jan. 20, 2017, when he was inaugurated, to a record 3,431.28 on Monday. And under Obama? The S&P 500, which was 805.22 on Jan. 20, 2009, grew 182% during his presidency; during his second term, it grew 52% (from 1,492.56 on Jan. 22, 2013). That’s a tad better than the gain under Trump, but then Trump still has five months left in his term to best Obama’s record.
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Overall, these benchmarks of the economy’s health show that Trump had a solid record before the spread of the coronavirus. But his economic stewardship has been no better than Obama’s, despite the current president’s boasts about what a great job he has done in contrast to the disastrous economy his predecessor had wrought.
It’s important that we keep these records in mind this week as we hear more Republican speakers extol the fabulous economy Trump orchestrated, and warn how the Democrats will destroy it if Biden is in the White House.
This election offers a stark difference on many issues, and the future of the economy is just one, although an important one. To the extent that our livelihoods and families’ economic security is a critical factor in our choice for president, the wise course is to decide what’s in our best interest based on facts, not false rhetoric.
Owen Ullmann, a former USA TODAY managing editor, is executive editor of The International Economy magazine.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/08/25/republican-national-convention-speakers-sell-trump-economic-myth-column/5627796002/
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