This report is published jointly with Capital & Main.
In the final days of the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump chases through the country at breakneck speed as he makes another attempt to win from behind. He will bring the events in Michigan, Southeast Florida and West Pennsylvania to the headlines. He will rally his supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Rome, Georgia, and Opa-locka, Florida.
He will visit eight states and up to 16 counties and, according to his campaign website, will campaign for re-election from Friday to Monday. He will promise to make America great again, again – and put the COVID crisis in the rearview mirror. His trivialization of the pandemic has led many voters down the wrong path, as the country has seen a sharp rise in COVID cases in the past two weeks and faces a rising death toll, which now stands at nearly 230,000.
But there is another weak link in the president’s closing speech. The economy before COVID, the “best economy ever”, was not as strong as advertised. And this fact is manifested in the President’s own travel plan.
Under his supervision, wage growth actually slowed down in most of the places he visited or will visit between October 30 and November 2. On average, residents in 11 of the 16 precincts that were on Trump’s last campaign trip experienced slower annual real wage growth in the first three years of the Trump administration than in the last three years of the Obama administration, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute and shared with Capital & Main.
Among the slower-growing counties he will visit are Grand Traverse, Oakland, Kent and Macomb in Michigan; Berks, Lucerne and Butler in Pennsylvania; Catawba County, North Carolina; Brown County, Wisconsin; Floyd County, Georgia; and Miami-Dade County in Florida. Meanwhile, Cumberland County, North Carolina; Olmsted County, Minnesota; Kenosha County, Wisconsin; Dubuque County, Iowa; and Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, experienced faster growth under Trump.
The slower wage growth of the people living in these counties is no mere coincidence. An EPI analysis published this month showed that most counties in the United States experienced slower average inflation-adjusted wage growth in the first three years of the Trump administration than in the last three years of the Obama administration.
Trump’s defenders have credited the massive tax cut in 2017 for the record low unemployment rates the country experienced before COVID and the fact that wages for the lowest paid workers finally began to rise. But Ben Zipperer, an economist with EPI, described this tax cut as an “extremely inefficient” gift to the rich, and credited the state’s minimum wage policy to those at the bottom end of the labor market.
“There are a lot of things that the administration and Congress could have done to prevent this slowdown,” Zipperer told Capital & Main, pointing to the president’s failure to implement an infrastructure plan and his administration’s attack on labor protection, which could have strengthened the bargaining power of workers at a time when the economy is expanding.
The EPI analysis paid particular attention to the swing counties – those districts that voted for Obama twice before voting for Trump in 2016. The vast majority of these swing counties – 67% – experienced slower wage growth in Trump’s first three years than in Obama’s last three years. Even more striking is that the swing counties located in one of the 13 swing states, as identified in the Cook policy report, perform even worse: 77% of the swing counties experienced slower wage growth under Trump. (Residents in other counties, which tend to be firmly in the Democratic or Republican camp, also experienced slower real wage growth under Trump on average).
Of course, the recession caused by the pandemic has made it even more difficult for Trump to pursue his economic case for re-election in the final days of his campaign. At a lunchtime rally on Thursday in Tampa, Florida, attended by thousands of people, he described the economic statistics as “boring” and turned his attention to Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president and a popular target.
Copyright 2020 Capital & Main.