One of the biggest head scratchers in our current political moment is consistent results of polling giving former President Donald Trump a wide lead over current President Joe Biden on the question of who can better manage the economy.
The disconnect between that perception and reality is stunning and is, to some degree, a sign that the president’s critics are doing a remarkable job of obfuscating the real economic data.
We know that everyone takes their own measure of the economy based on the factors that most influence them. Gas and food prices are key factors for many, and interest rates affect those families in the market for things like a new home or a new car.
But by traditional economic measures we are currently experiencing one of the strongest periods of economic expansion in decades. Under Biden we’ve experienced GDP growth of a full three percent annually and job creation numbers that absolutely blow the former president away. Even after more than a year of high interest rates (which are set by the Fed, not the President), we saw GDP growth of 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2023.
That has ripple effects locally. Here in St. Louis County, the impact of Donald Trump’s economic policies was virtually zero. During his first full month in office, there were 97,132 people employed in the county, according to Federal Reserve data. When Trump left office, there were 93,948 people employed in the county, a net loss of more than 3,000 jobs. Admittedly, the vast majority of that job loss was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but even in January 2020, the month before the pandemic reached U.S. shores, there were 97,551 employed people in the county, a net gain over three years of a mere 599 jobs.
By contrast, under Biden, employment in the county in just two and a half years went from the 93,948 jobs he inherited from the previous administration, to 98,147— an increase of 4,199 jobs. While many of those jobs can be attributed to the reopening in the wake of COVID, even if you compare it to the month before COVID hit, the county has seen stronger job creation under Biden.
Nationally, job creation under Biden has blown Trump away, even if you ignore the job losses suffered from the pandemic. Trump regularly brags at campaign events that 4.9 million jobs were created during the first 30 months of his administration. That may be true, but Biden has seen 13.4 million jobs created in the U.S. during the first 30 months of his presidency and unemployment has been at record lows for most of the past year. Wage growth has also been stronger than under Trump.
Such comparisons are useful but admittedly don’t tell the whole story. The more important question is whether a president’s policies have actually contributed to the economic conditions experienced under their administration. In the case of Trump, the only significant economic policies enacted during his administration were import tariffs (which any economist will tell you are inflationary), and tax cuts that went overwhelmingly to corporations.
Biden, meanwhile, has successfully enacted several major economic initiatives that are clearly contributing to the success of the economy. The administration started with a second COVID relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan, which helped the economy further recover. He followed that up by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, accomplishing in nine months what Trump repeatedly promised but couldn’t accomplish in four years. But Biden was just getting started and followed up with the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, which made major investments in domestic manufacturing and clean energy. Those investments are already having a major impact as manufacturing employment in the U.S. is booming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation added 367,000 manufacturing jobs in 2022 alone, and those are jobs that can be attributed to Biden’s policies, not a COVID rebound since that occurred in 2020 and 2021. More Americans are working in manufacturing than at any time under Trump.
Biden’s critics like to blame his policies for the post-COVID inflation but inflation in the U.S. has been tamer than in almost any other advanced economy, which suggests the opposite is true. Boosting manufacturing is helping to curb the supply shortages that caused some of that inflation. While higher interest rates have made major purchases more expensive for many Americans, with the progress on inflation, those are expected to start dropping in 2024.
Oh, and U.S. oil production is higher under Biden than at any time under the Trump administration, so don’t blame the President for gas prices.
The bottom line? While many folks are still upset over previous inflation, that situation has undeniably improved. And, by other measures, the economy is doing better than at any time since the 1960s. Biden’s critics are increasingly resorting to exaggeration and outright falsehood to claim otherwise.