Tuning into “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday morning, as he often does, President Trump heard something he liked — as he often does.
In a tweet, Trump quoted host Brian Kilmeade as saying: “A lot of Democrats wished they voted for the Tax Cuts because the economy is booming — we could have 4% growth now and the Fed said yesterday that unemployment could drop again.”
A bit later, Trump celebrated another bit of good economic news.
“3.4 million jobs created since our great Election Victory,” he wrote, “far greater than ever anticipated, and only getting better as new and greatly improved Trade Deals start coming to fruition!”
It’s a weird tic of Trump’s that he keeps highlighting economic numbers that don’t really show the strength he insists is happening. Americans agree that the economy is doing well, as polling repeatedly shows. But Trump instead embraces numbers that either sound big or that he harped on during the campaign, or both. They don’t always hold up.
Take those jobs numbers. It sounds impressive, 3.4 million jobs added since the election. Again, Trump is taking credit for a period when he wasn’t president, November 2016 to January 2017. But that’s irrelevant.
The November 2016 jobs data came 19 months before the most recent data in June. If we look at the 19 months preceding each month going back to November 2012, the last presidential election, here’s what job growth has looked like.
The Trump era, in dark blue, is worse than it was many months in the Obama era. If nothing else, it’s not exceptionally large, and, as we’ve noted before, someone making the prediction in late 2016 that the economy would add 3.4 million jobs by June 2018 would have been considered conservative in his estimates, not wildly optimistic.
Then there’s that growth in the gross domestic product. Trump and his allies keep talking about 4 percent quarterly growth, often pointing to predictions that the economy would get there. Trump promised 4 percent annual growth during the campaign. He retweeted Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs in January, predicting 4 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2017. His son tweeted a similar prediction.
GDP growth in the fourth quarter was 2.9 percent.
Over Trump’s time in office, GDP growth has been generally better than it was in 2016 but worse than in, say, 2014. Trump’s first year in office didn’t come close to 4 percent growth.
As for the unemployment rate, it dropped steadily from about 2010 until last September. Since then, it’s been in the range of 3.8 to 4.1 percent. Could it drop again? Sure. It went up last month.
An unemployment rate at 4 percent is good news. But Trump and his allies seem to treat economic numbers like stock prices: If they don’t keep heading in a good direction, they’re bad. Speaking of: Trump doesn’t talk about the stock market much anymore, probably because the huge gains the markets were seeing began to stall in February.
As for the claim that Democrats wish they’d voted for the tax cuts? Unlikely. Unlikely in part because those cuts will soon contribute to a huge spike in the federal deficit and also in part because the “rocket fuel” boost that the administration insisted the economy would see once they passed hasn’t materialized. The cuts were supposed to boost GDP, add jobs and increase wages (while permanently slashing costs for businesses). As you can see above, jobs and GDP haven’t seen any significant change in trajectory.
As for wages, they’re only increasing at a pace that matches inflation, meaning that the spending power of people’s salaries hasn’t moved. Since June 2017, the relative spending power of hourly earnings actually dropped. That’s not what Trump promised.
There are other factors that are likely to affect the economy, too, such as the new tariffs Trump imposed that already are spurring higher costs in many industries. Setting those aside, though, we can fairly simply evaluate Trump’s bold assessments of the strength of the economy:
The metrics he cites aren’t as exceptional as he’d have you believe.