The Republicans, and especially the frontrunners for the GOP nomination, really want the economy to suck. After all, if the economy is strong then all of Donald Trump's demagoguing about "making America great again" begins to feel a tad unnecessary.
During his final State of the Union address, President Obama made sure to hammer the Republicans on this very point. Said Obama: "The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world." Also: "Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction"
That second one is especially accurate, as illustrated by a sampling of quotes from one of the recent Republican presidential debates:
Ted Cruz: "From 2008 to today, our economy has grown 1.2 percent a year on average. The Obama economy is a disaster..."
Marco Rubio: "I mean, this economy is nothing like what it was like five years ago, not to mention 15 or 20 years ago."
Jeb Bush: "My worry is that the real economy has been hurt by the vast overreach of the Obama administration."
And then there's serial fiction-peddler Donald Trump, who told CNN:
"We have to take our country back. We've lost our jobs, we've lost our money. We're a third world nation and we're a debtor nation at the same time, you need somebody with the kind of thinking -- I built a great company. I have some of the great assets of the world. And I talk about only form- not bragging- I talk about it because that's the kind of mentality that this country needs. We need that mentality now and we need it fast."
"A lot of people up there can’t get jobs. They can’t get jobs. Because there are no jobs."
"Last quarter, it was just announced, our gross domestic product -– a sign of strength, right? But not for us. It was below zero. Who ever heard of this? It’s never below zero."
Before we continue, let's correct the record about, "It's never below zero." Whopper lie. Economic growth has dipped below zero many, many times! 42 times since 1946. But Trump is counting on his supporters not paying very close attention to such things.
Finally, here’s Trump on the labor participation rate:
"I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment — because you have ninety million people that aren’t working. Ninety-three million to be exact."
It's all fiction. The reason we know this is because numbers don't lie. But Trump and the Republicans clearly do.
Let's take a look by starting with that last quote first, regarding the labor participation rate, which Trump was hamfistedly referencing here. This is an often cited statistic that Obama critics like to wheel out in order to undermine the reality that unemployment has been cut in half under Obama, from more than 10 percent to exactly five percent today. The participation rate measures the number of people who've dropped out of the workforce, and the Republicans suggest it's because they simply can't find work in Obama's allegedly disastrous economy.
Here's the truth. The labor participation rate has indeed dropped under Obama. Bad news, right? Well, only if you believe what Trump says, and why the hell would you do that? Yes, the number has descended from 65.7 in 2009 to 62 percent today. But let's suppose it was a larger five percent drop, or a 10 percent drop. Does it matter in terms of evaluating the Obama economy? Not a chance.
FactCheck.org released the site's most recent scorecard for the Obama's presidency and noted the following on the labor participation rate:
Contrary to many of Obama’s critics, however, that decline is due mostly to factors outside the control of any president — factors such as the post-World War II baby boomers reaching retirement age. Survey data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December show that those outside the labor force in 2014 said their reasons for not working were retirement (44 percent), illness or disability (19 percent), school attendance (18 percent) or home responsibilities (15 percent). Only 3 percent said they couldn’t find a job, or gave some other reason.
So, sure, Trump might be able to blame three percent of a total 3.7 percent decline in the rate as maybe Obama's fault. But most of the workers who've dropped out of the labor force have done so for reasons other than the state of the economy. Do the math.
Along those lines, Trump also said the "real" unemployment rate is 42 percent with 93 million workers unable to find a job. Again, fiction.
Per the Washington Post:
Trump may have seen a chart, but he misread it. Yes, the BLS shows that there are 93.7 million people “not in the work force,” but the vast majority of those people do not want to work. Most are retired or simply are not interested in working, such as stay-at-home parents.
Here's more bad news for the Republicans. According to FactCheck.org, the Obama economy has added 9.2 million jobs. For the sake of reference, the Reagan economy added 16 million jobs, but job growth during Obama's second term, which was more or less untethered from the Great Recession, exceeded Reagan's first term job growth. Furthermore, the unemployment rate under Obama has declined more rapidly to a lower level than the rate under Reagan. Either way, it's not the unmitigated disaster Trump's talking about by any stretch of his bewigged imagination.
Elsewhere, per FactCheck.org, since the beginning of his first term when he inherited an economy strangled by an nearly unprecedented recession, the Obama economy has seen the number of long-term unemployed drop by 614,000 workers. Job openings are up 97 percent. The S&P has grown by 139 percent. Weekly earnings are up (though not up enough, admittedly). Crude oil production is up 87 percent and oil imports are down by 62 percent. Alternative energy sources are up by 273 percent. Exports are up by 31 percent. The number of uninsured Americans has dropped by 15 million, due mainly to the dreaded Obamacare. And federal spending is only up by 11 percent, the lowest rate climb of any modern president. The budget deficit has dropped by more than a trillion dollars. And the economy has grown for 79 consecutive months.
Is everything perfect? No way. But, again, we're only a few years out from an economic disaster of biblical proportions, and it would've been foolish to expect rapid economic growth in the wake of a recession that nearly crushed the world economy.
Just as foolish would be to expect that Donald Trump could do any better. Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics observed this week,
"If Trump’s policies were enacted it would be some form of disaster for the economy. If you force 11 million undocumented immigrants to leave in a year, you would be looking at a depression. It would not help the people he is talking to, they would be the first to go down."
That's reality. And yet too many Americans think he's going to "make America great again."