Dave Helling

How does Trump stack up at the midterms? The numbers are clear

Trump points out low unemployment rates during Nevada rally

President Donald Trump held a rally in Las Vegas on September 20, where he touted administration's economic achievements. He also talked about the Paris accord withdrawal, and said he is an environmentalist, but also wants to provide jobs.
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President Donald Trump held a rally in Las Vegas on September 20, where he touted administration's economic achievements. He also talked about the Paris accord withdrawal, and said he is an environmentalist, but also wants to provide jobs.

I wrote a column in the first days of Donald Trump’s presidency, outlining a series of economic and political “benchmarks” for the new administration. Modestly, I suggested readers save the column for future reference.

The time has come to check the record.

Two observations stand out. Trump is right when he says the economy has improved since January 2017. Partisans will argue over who is responsible for the good results, but the numbers are clear.

At the same time, there are worrisome trends.

Prices for goods and services — cars, gas, mortgages — are rising. This should not be a surprise, since prices go up in a growing economy. That’s what the business cycle is all about.

The other problem is more unique, and more pronounced. The nation’s budget deficit is growing dramatically, either because of too much federal spending or huge tax cuts, or both. This is not normal. Deficits are supposed to shrink in a healthy economy, not grow.

With those ideas in mind, here’s the list. A reminder: The numbers come from public and private sources.

Unemployment rate: Then: 4.7 percent. Now: 3.9 percent.

Workforce participation rate: Then: 62.7 percent. Now: 62.7 percent

Average salary per week, private non-farm workers: Then: $894.06 Now: $937.02

Average monthly Social Security benefit: Then: $1,359 Now: $1,413

Poverty rate: 2015: 13.5 percent 2017: 12.3 percent

Food stamp beneficiaries: Jan. 2017: 44.7 million June 2018: 39.3 million

Manufacturing jobs: Jan. 2017: 12,369,000 Aug. 2018: 12,717,000

Annual inflation rate: 2016: 2.1 percent Aug. 2018: 2.7 percent

Average price of gasoline per gallon: Then: $2.36 Now: $2.84

Average interest rate, 30-year mortgage: Then: 4.09 percent. Now: 4.65 percent

Wheat price per bushel: Then: $4.71 Now: $5.22

Average new car price: June 2016: $33,652 March 2018: $35,285

Gross domestic product growth rate, Q4 2016: 1.9 percent. Q2 2018: 4.2 percent

Dow Jones Industrial Average: Jan. 20, 2017: 19,732. Sept. 25 2018: 26,562.

NASDAQ: Then: 5,546.08. Now: 7,993.25.

Corporate profits, annual: Then: $1.694 trillion Now: $2.012 trillion

Trade deficit: Dec. 2016: $45.2 billion. July 2018: $50.1 billion.

Federal budget deficit: FY 2016: $587 billion FY 2018 (projected): $793 billion

Federal debt: Then: $19.9 trillion Now: $21.5 trillion

Federal civilian employees: Then: 2,198,000 Now: 2,190,000

Unauthorized immigrants, estimate: Then: 11.1 million Now: 11.1 million

Average annual health care spending, family of 4, Millman index: Then: $25,826 Now: $28,166

Americans lacking health insurance: Then: 10.9 percent Now: 12.2 percent

Homicides: 2015: 15,696. 2017: 16,617

Average in-state tuition and fees, state school: Then: $9,650 Now: $9,970

Average private university tuition: Then: $33,480 Now: $34,740

Readers who clipped the original column will notice I’ve dropped a few categories, largely because firm data aren’t yet available for the Trump administration.

Taken as a whole, however, this list provides an accurate picture of Trump’s first two years: More people are working and economic growth is up. The national debt is higher, as are consumer prices.

Clip this column, or bookmark it. We’ll take another look in 2020.

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