A few days ago, a reporter asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer if he knew the national unemployment rate.
Spicer wouldn’t say. He promised the White House would look at a “multitude of statistics,” though, before proposing economic policy.
There are reasons for the obfuscation, of course. For one thing, candidate Donald Trump once asserted that the real unemployment rate might be as high as 42 percent — a surprising claim for most people but just another pants-on-fire day at the office for the nation’s chief executive.
But Spicer knew the reporter wanted the unemployment number for another reason: It could serve as a benchmark for the Trump presidency.
You need to know where you start in order to know how far you’ve gone.
No politician likes benchmarks; ask Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. But reporters and voters love them because they’re facts, easily obtained and revealed.
So consider this a clip-out column. Save these numbers in a dark, dry place for about 18 months. Then take them out and see how much progress the Trump administration and the Republican Congress have made, or how much they have fallen short, before the 2018 election.
The figures come from government agencies or, where noted, private groups. They reflect the best available numbers, as close as possible to Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
▪ Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent
▪ Workforce participation rate: 62.7 percent
▪ Average weekly salary, private non-farm workers, December 2016: $891.80
▪ Average monthly Social Security benefit, 2017: $1,359
▪ Poverty rate, 2015, U.S. Census estimate: 13.5 percent
▪ Food stamp beneficiaries, 2016: 44,219,000
▪ Total U.S. manufacturing jobs, November 2016: 12,258,000
▪ Annual inflation rate, 2016: 2.1 percent
▪ Average price of gasoline, per gallon: $2.36
▪ Average interest rate for 30-year mortgage: 4.09 percent
▪ Wheat price per bushel, March delivery: $4.71
▪ Average price for new car, June 2016: $33,652
▪ Gross domestic product growth rate, Q4 2016: 1.9 percent
▪ Dow Jones Industrial average, Jan. 20: 19,732.40
▪ NASDAQ: 5,546.08
▪ Corporate profits, annual, 2016 Q3 rate: $1.68 trillion
▪ Trade deficit, December 2016: $45.2 billion
▪ Federal budget deficit, fiscal year 2016: $587 billion
▪ Total federal debt: $19.9 trillion
▪ Federal government employees, civilian: 2.1 million
▪ Active U.S. military personnel: 1,303,000
▪ Military personnel abroad: 150,560
▪ Deployed nuclear warheads, estimate, Arms Control Association: U.S.: 1,367; Russia: 1,796
▪ Unauthorized immigrants, estimate, 2014: 11.1 million
▪ Average annual health care spending, family of four, Millman index: $25,826
▪ Americans lacking health insurance, Q4 2016, Gallup index: 10.9 percent
▪ U.S. murders, 2015: 15,696; firearms used: 71.5 percent of murders
▪ High school dropouts in population, U.S. Census, 2014: 6.5 percent
▪ Average college tuition and fees, in-state student, state institution: $9,650
▪ Average private university tuition: $33,480
This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. But it outlines the basic concerns for most Americans: jobs, income, prices. It sets a baseline for the federal deficit and federal debt. And it looks at some social measures, such as violent crime and education.
And virtually every measure can be affected, at least to some degree, by federal policy. The growth rate, the stock market, health insurance costs, even military service are in the hands of policymakers and the Trump White House.
Perhaps Spicer can clip out the list and pin it to a bulletin board.