There’s a myth going around that Trump is presiding over a great economy.
As White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow recently put it, “The single biggest story this year is an economic boom that is durable and lasting.”
Really? Look at the living standards of most Americans, and you get a very different picture.
Yes, the stock market has boomed since Trump became president. But it’s looking increasingly wobbly as Trump’s trade wars take a toll.
Over 80 percent of the stock market is owned by the richest 10 percent of Americans anyway, so most Americans never got much out of Trump’s market boom to begin with.
The trade wars are also starting to take a toll on ordinary workers. Trump’s steel tariffs have cost Ford $1 billion so far, for example, forcing the automaker to plan mass layoffs.
What about economic growth? Data from the Commerce Department shows the economy at full speed, 4.2 percent growth for the second quarter.
But very little of that growth is trickling down to average Americans. Adjusted for inflation, hourly wages aren’t much higher now than they were forty years ago.
Trump slashed taxes on the wealthy and promised everyone else a $4,000 wage boost. But the boost never happened.
That’s a big reason why Republicans aren’t campaigning on their tax cut, just about their only legislative accomplishment.
Trump and congressional Republicans refuse to raise the minimum wage, which is stuck at $7.25 an hour.
Trump’s Labor Department is also repealing a rule that increased the number of workers entitled to time-and-a-half for overtime.
While unemployment is down to 2.7 percent, jobs are less secure than ever. Contract workers—who aren’t eligible for family or medical leave, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, or worker’s compensation—now occupy one out of every five jobs in America.
Trump’s Labor Department has invited more companies to reclassify employees as contract workers. Its new rule relaxes the California Supreme Court’s recent decision requiring that workers be presumed employees unless proven otherwise. (Given California’s size, that decision had nationwide effect.)
Meanwhile, housing costs are skyrocketing, with most Americans now paying a third or more of their paychecks in rent or mortgages.
Trump’s response? Drastic cuts in low-income housing. His Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also wants to triple the rent paid by poor households in subsidized housing.
Health care costs continue to rise faster than inflation. Trump’s response? Undermine the Affordable Care Act. Over the past two years, some 4 million people have lost health care coverage, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund.
Pharmaceutical costs are also out of control. Trump’s response? Allow the biggest pharmacist, CVS, to merge with the one of the biggest health insurers, Aetna—creating a behemoth with the power to raise prices even further.
The cost of college continues to soar. Trump’s response? Make it easier for for-profit colleges to defraud students. His Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is eliminating regulations that forced for-profit colleges to prove they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll.
Commuting to and from work is becoming harder as roads and bridges become more congested, and subways and trains older and less reliable. Trump’s response? Although he promised to spend $1.5 trillion to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, his $1.5 trillion tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy used up the money.
Climate change is also undermining the living standards of ordinary Americans, as more are hit with floods, mudslides, tornados, draughts, and wildfires.
Even those who have so far avoided direct hits will be paying more for insurance—or having a harder time getting it. People living on flood plains, or in trailers, or without home insurance, are paying the highest price.
Trump’s response? Allow more carbon into the atmosphere and make climate change even worse.
Too often, discussions about “the economy” focus on overall statistics about growth, the stock market, and unemployment.
But most Americans don’t live in that economy. They live in a personal economy that has more to do with wages, job security, commutes to and from work, and the costs of housing, health care, drugs, education, and home insurance.
These are the things that hit closest home. They comprise the typical American’s standard of living.
Instead of an economic boom, most Americans are experiencing a bust in all these dimensions of their lives.
Trump isn’t solely responsible. Some of these trends predate his presidency. But he hasn’t done anything to reverse them.
If anything, he’s made them far worse.
Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All. His latest documentary, Saving Capitalism, is streaming on Netflix. Reich ‘s new book, The Common Good, is available now.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.