Robert B. Reich: The Trump economy isn't good for everyone
By Robert B. Reich
May 22, 2019 at 6:00 AM
New data shows that concerns over the economy sliding into a recession after December's data were overblown, says Morningstar's Bob Johnson.
The award for this year's Biggest Backhanded Compliment to Donald Trump from a Trump Toadie goes to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who recently predicted a Trump victory in 2020 because "people will vote for somebody they don't like if they think it's good for them."
Mr. Mulvaney knows most Americans don't like Mr. Trump. But Mr. Mulvaney thinks they'll forgive his unsavory traits because unemployment has hit a 50-year low, wages are rising, and economic growth exceeds 3 percent. A CNN poll released in early May shows that 56 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Trump's handling of the economy.
This is making some Democrats nervous. No president since World War II has failed to be re-elected when the economy was good, and every president up for re-election in a lousy economy has been booted out of office.
"What Democrats have to be most worried about is the economy," says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
But there's a whopping difference between Americans thinking the economy is good in general and thinking it's good for them personally. The personal economy drives votes, and most Americans think their personal economy is lousy.
In a survey by The Washington Post and ABC News published May 7, more than 80 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents said "the economic system in this country" mainly works "to benefit those in power" rather than all Americans. Nearly a third of Republicans agreed.
The official economic statistics don't reflect personal economics -- what people tell each other over the kitchen table when they're trying to pay the bills.
Although more Americans are employed, most jobs still pay squat. Adjusted for inflation, recent wage gains are smaller than wage gains in 2015. Workers have lost so much bargaining power that not even the lowest unemployment rate in half a century is doing much to boost wages.
Employers continue to sack workers willy-nilly. To take but one example: Two years ago, AT&T executives promised that the pending corporate tax cut would allow them to create more jobs. They laid off 23,000 instead.
Consider that almost 80 percent of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck and you get a feel for the havoc so many families are living in.
Meanwhile, the costs of education, child care, housing and health care are soaring, and Mr. Trump hasn't done a thing to help. If anything, he's made it worse.
Student loan debt is in the stratosphere. Remember the old promise that if you took a public service job your student loan would be forgiven? Betsy DeVos' Education Department has rejected some 98 percent of loan-forgiveness applications.
Housing is out of reach for young workers, which is why so many are living with their parents and postponing marriage.
Child care is becoming unaffordable. The average cost of center-based child care for an infant is now $1,230 a month; $800 a month if you park him or her in a family child care home.
Health insurance is a nightmare. Last year, 30.4 million Americans went without any coverage -- about 1.1 million more than the year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey.
That's the second year the figure has risen after years of declines due to the Affordable Care Act. The reversal is largely because of Mr. Trump's efforts to undermine that measure. The Trump administration is now asking a court to throw it out entirely.
Co-payments and deductibles are out of control. According to a recent Gallup survey, Americans borrowed $88 billion to pay for health care last year, and one out of four people decided not to see a doctor because of cost.
Trumpland has been especially hard hit. A quarter of working-age adults in Texas lack health insurance, for example. (In Massachusetts, it's 4.9 percent).
Mr. Trump's trade wars have hammered the kitchen tables of rural America. With corn and soybean prices plummeting, farm incomes are down $12 billion in the first quarter of this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Farm bankruptcies are at near-record levels.
Mr. Mulvaney may be correct that people will vote for somebody they dislike if they think it's good for them. Yet Mr. Trump's economy isn't good for most Americans.
If Democrats speak to the practical economic needs of Americans and offer realistic solutions, as they've started to do, Americans won't pay attention to overall economic statistics when they vote in 2020.
They'll heed what's in their kitchen, and Mr. Trump will be toast.
Robert Reich's latest book is "The Common Good," and his newest documentary is "Saving Capitalism."