CLEVELAND — Almost eight years into President Obama’s administration, incomes are down, as is the percentage of adults working or searching for work.
Those two statistics are the underpinnings of Donald Trump’s economic argument against Democrat Hillary Clinton and the foundation on which Day 2 of the Republican National Convention was built — “Make America Work Again.”
“It’s a part of the story. Communities have been hurt by trade with China.”
But don’t just take the word of partisans who took the stage at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday. Listen to the conclusion of a left-wing economist.
David Madland, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said in an interview that he believes President Obama does not get enough credit for rescuing the economy from the economic emergency he inherited, and he generally favors the economic prescriptions offered by Clinton. But he acknowledged that the trade deals that have drawn so much scorn from Trump have hurt the American economy.
“It’s a part of the story,” he said. “Communities have been hurt by trade with China.”
Trump will be armed with that ammunition as the general election campaign kicks off in earnest. Since 1999, the median household income has tumbled from $57,843 to $53,657 in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a 7.2 percent decline.
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The labor-force participation rate also has declined, while the trade deficit with the world has ballooned from $503.6 billion in 2009 to $745.7 billion in 2015.
“Wages never seem to go up,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, a reluctant Trump supporter, told the delegates at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. “The whole economy feels stuck. And for millions of Americans, middle-class security is now just a memory.”
Even ardent free trade supporters have rethought their views — or at least recalibrated their rhetoric to match the Trump era. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarty, a California Republican who has been close to to Silicon Valley and its insatiable appetite for foreign workers, gave a nod to Trump’s economic outlook in his address to convention delegates Tuesday.
“So to all those left behind by economic forces out of your control — we hear you,” he said.
Andy Puzder, the CEO of the company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, said at a forum sponsored by FreedomWorks on Tuesday that Trump’s hard line on trade is not as unreasonable as some media outlets have portrayed it. He said it essentially boils down to negotiating better terms with America’s trading partners and using all the powers of the presidency to challenge violations of existing pacts.
“I don’t think there’s anything anti-business or illogical about that,” she said.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., said Democrats are right when they point to economic problems like income inequality.
[lz_table title=”Median Household Income” source=”Census Bureau”]Year,Median Income
“But they don’t tell you that it was their policies that caused the problem,” he told convention delegates. “And they don’t tell you that it was their polices that have no accountability.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie included Clinton’s economic policies in a long list of counts in an “indictment” that the former federal prosecutor unfurled against the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“So, Hillary Clinton, putting big government spending financed by the Chinese ahead of jobs for middle-class Americans. Guilty or not guilty?” he said, as a chorus of delegates shouted, “Guilty.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) contrasted Trump’s energy policies with the “war on coal” waged by Obama and Clinton. She said Obama’s environmental policies have already put 60,000 West Virginia coal workers out of business.
“The greatest obstacle for West Virginia families — and families all across America over the past eight years — has been a president that places left-wing priorities and campaign promises over their livelihoods,” she said. “President Obama has hurt the heart and soul of my state — our proud coal miners and the communities where they live, work and pursue happiness.”
Kimberlin Brown, an avocado farmer and soap opera actress, offered a personal touch, linking Trump’s signature issue of trade to her experiences in Hollywood.
“I have seen TV and movie productions move out of the country,” she said. “If you were an A-lister like Leonardo DiCaprio or an owner of a studio or producer, you were OK. But, if you were a cameraman, sound tech, a boom operator or did any of the many jobs in a production, you were just out of luck.
“And at the time, it did not affect me, and I didn’t understand what my local union boys were talking about. Now I do and I’m sorry for not understanding the plight of these men and women who lost their livelihoods. And they did.”