Election 2020 Politics

Who won and who lost in the Trump economy

In fact, as jobs numbers released on Friday morning show, employment is again sliding downward. Observers expected a small increase in employment in December; instead, the country shed another 140,000 jobs.

There are now more than 10 million people out of work, consistent with the figure for November. A large percentage of those who are unemployed are permanently unemployed, different than the immediate surge in job losses, which were temporary layoffs. The number of permanently unemployed people dropped slightly in December, but remains far higher than at any point of Trump’s presidency before February.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency — comparing the number of adults working each month with the number working in January 2017 — employment grew at a steady rate. Until March, that is, when the pandemic restrictions began to kick in. In February, employment during Trump’s term in office had increased by 4.3 percent relative to January 2017; by December it had fallen 1.5 percent.

It’s important to consider that the population of the country also grew over the past four years. Between Trump’s inauguration and the end of 2020, the country’s population increased by about 2 percent. More jobs were added than people, but not by much.

There wasn’t much difference in how employment changed when looking at gender. For most of Trump’s term, the rate at which women were employed grew faster than the rate for men, but both rates were generally similar.

When considering education, though, that’s not true. Employment among those with college degrees rose 8.8 percent since January 2017, while employment among every other educational group fell. The fall was steepest among those without a high school degree, among whom the number of people working December was 15 percent lower than when Trump took office.

In other words, out of every 1,000 people without a high school diploma who were working on the day of Trump’s inauguration, about 150 of them no longer are.

When considering racial and ethnic demographics, the story of the past four years might be surprising. Employment among Whites fell by 2.2 percent and among Blacks it was down 2.1 percent. But among Asian and Hispanic Americans, employment grew, even after the pandemic.

Some of these categories overlap, of course. Americans without high school diplomas tend to be older and White. But it’s also interesting to consider those shifts in the context of the implicit promise Trump made in 2016: to put precisely that category of American back to work.

The country’s success in that regard was spotty. In February, employment in manufacturing, for example, had increased by about 4 percent since he took office — in line with the increase in employment overall. As of December, though, slightly fewer people are working in the industry than when he was inaugurated.

We’ll interject here to make an obvious but important point. The extent to which any president is responsible for shifts in employment is limited, though there can be policy decisions and regulation changes that directly affect job growth or constriction.

For example, the Trump administration worked hard to expand natural resource extraction. Employment in the mining and logging industry looks the way Trump would probably have wanted, though only until about June of 2019. The industry was already shedding jobs before the pandemic hit, though it, like manufacturing, has recovered somewhat.

No industry was harder hit than the one to which Trump returns on Jan. 20. Leisure and hospitality employment cratered as restaurants and hotels closed, regaining some ground in the months that followed. It was, however, the industry hit hardest in December, losing nearly half a million jobs. Given that the industry relies on human interaction, it seems to be a leading indicator of the effects of the pandemic.

Another industry that saw a reversal of its rebound was educational services, which includes school and college instructors, among others. Over the past several months, the industry has shrunk.

An industry that has done well during the pandemic is construction. By February, construction employment had increased by about 10 percent under Trump. In December, it was back to 8.3 percent growth.

Other industries saw rebounds that meant they’d added jobs under Trump. The professional services sector had a quick turnaround, as did health care — though that reversal has slowed in recent months.

Economists have noted that the economic recovery has been faster and sharper for white-collar workers, in line with the educational data discussed above. Financial services, for example, was one of the few industries that never dropped beneath the January 2017 baseline during the pandemic.

Then there’s government. It was bolstered during the summer by Census hiring, but the number of people working in government is now about 4 percent lower than it was when Trump took office.

For many Republicans, that’s probably considered a positive development. Trump might have been one of them, were it not for one looming qualifier: He will be one of the government employees losing his job this month.

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