By David Pettinicchio and Michelle Maroto
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have presented two different pictures of the U.S. economy, especially when it comes to unemployment. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton has played up many of the economic gains made throughout Barack Obama’s presidency – including the significant decline in the number of long-term unemployed Americans since 2008. But she has also had to contend with inequality and disadvantage that has persisted since her husband, Bill Clinton’s, presidency.
Hillary reminded viewers of the economic prosperity associated with Bill Clinton’s years in office at the second presidential debate: “it's not just because I watched my husband take a $300 billion deficit and turn it into a $200 billion surplus and 23 million new jobs were created and incomes went up for everybody. Everybody. African-American incomes went up 33 percent.”
The so-called “new economy” of the 1990s saw about ten years of continuous economic growth as well as the largest jobs increase in U.S. history. However, throughout the 1990s, troubling labor market trends also negatively impacted many American workers, including workers from historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups: the rise of less stable and lower paying jobs; the declining influence of labor unions; and persistent labor market segmentation disproportionately affecting women, African Americans, and people with disabilities.
For instance, although the gender wage gap continued to decline in the 1990s, much of this decline stemmed from men's earnings losses above women's gains. Employment rates among people with disabilities were declining well before President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. But, the economy Bill Clinton presided over saw increasing unemployment among disabled Americans despite unprecedented jobs growth associated with the 1990s. Wages for people with disabilities also remained stagnant throughout that decade.
The result is a “new economy” that hasn’t benefited everyone and this should be Hillary’s focus as Election Day nears.
Many of the economic gains made in the 1990s were lost in the Bush years culminating in the 2008 recession. Women's unadjusted earnings are still only 80 percent of men's. The unemployment rate for African American and Hispanic workers increased throughout the 2000s and African American workers are still paid less than white workers at every education level. Employment rates among people with disabilities continued to decline throughout the 2000’s, even during President Obama’s two terms in office.
Although families, on average, experienced economic growth last year for the first time since the beginning of the recession, many are still struggling to make ends meet. In reality, only the wealthiest among us have truly recovered from the consequences of the recession. Workers who lost their jobs during the economic crisis have found work, but many had to settle for lower-paying and less-secure work. Those who chose to return to school to further their education and obtain additional training now also face looming student loan debts, along with the young adults just entering the labor market for the first time. And, even with Obamacare, some families still worry about how they will pay their medical bills.
Pointing to the economy of the 1990s is a double-edge sword. But acknowledging the limitations of the new economy creates an important opportunity for Hillary Clinton to highlight her America – an America that is about “getting the economy to work for everyone, not just those at the top.”
Throughout this campaign, Hillary continues to position herself in stark contrast to her opponent, Donald Trump when it comes to her record in helping Americans left out of the new economy. As she proclaimed at the last debate, “I have spent 30 years -- actually maybe a little more, working to help kids and families and I want to take that experience to the White House and do that every single day.” Clinton needs to let these families know that their concerns are hers; that even though the economy has improved under the current Democratic president, there is more to be done.
Not only is this critical in appealing to Bernie Sanders supporters who may still be uncomfortable voting her Hillary Clinton, it will also appeal to the many Trump supporters who have been left behind by the new economy. We've taken so many steps in the right direction over the past eight years, but there is still a long way to go.