When Ronald Reagan was running for president in 1980, he famously asked the American public a question that many commentators think turned the tide toward his election: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” For many Americans, the answer was clearly no. If we ask the same question of Americans today compared with two years ago, the answer is an even more pronounced yes. We are experiencing some economic outcomes that even the rosiest of prognosticators did not foresee. Moreover, the change in sentiment among Americans is staggering.
The past two years have really been the recovery for the poor, the working class, the disabled, women, and minorities, all of whom have been disproportionately helped by the economic policies of the past couple of years. Perhaps, the greatest change in attitude is represented by a survey of blue-collar workers. In early 2017 only 37 percent believed their children would achieve higher financial success than they had. In less than two years, that number has risen to 88 percent. In another poll 85 percent of blue-collar employees claimed their lives are now moving in the right direction.
A higher percentage of Americans of all economic level believe the country is headed in the right direction now than at any time in the past 12 years. Employee productivity is on pace to have a meaningful increase this year. Individuals with disabilities and criminal records are being hired at a level never before seen. Unemployment among African-Americans and Hispanics has dropped at a faster rate than for whites.
Overall unemployment claims are at the lowest level seen since 1969. This is a staggering accomplishment because “claims” is a raw number and the U.S. population is substantially higher than it was 49 years ago. These claims have risen a little in the weeks since Florence hit.
Most people believed that manufacturing jobs would continue to decrease in the United States. What we’ve discovered is that if we simply try to help manufacturers, they will create jobs. In a recent 12-month period more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs were added, a number not seen in over 23 years. In the same period over 300,000 construction jobs were added.
The Trump Administration tax cuts have helped women and minorities, whose enrollment in Medicaid, SNAP, and CHIP continued to increase in the fourth quarter of 2017, but dropped by 728,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Imagine how proud these people and families must feel.
Good things continue to happen locally. The Piedmont Natural Gas facility planned for Maxton will be a $250 million investment in Robeson County, creating about 400 construction jobs, a dozen permanent jobs, and $800,000 to $1 million in tax revenue a year for the county.
In the most recent state-level unemployment statistics North Carolina tied for the largest drop in unemployment rate in the nation. North Carolina created the fifth largest number of jobs for the 12-month-period ending in August, even more than a much larger state such as New York.
It will be difficult to keep up these impressive accomplishments. Just this week, the Federal Reserve Board continued to correct a benchmark interest rate kept artificially low. President Trump is also playing a high-stakes game of chicken to see whether other countries will create fairer trading conditions. If he doesn’t win against many nations, we will be worse off. For all of our sakes, let’s hope he wins.
Eric Dent, a former professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, now teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University.