We’ve just elected a post-truth candidate for president in a post-truth, fake news-dominated society. That makes it even more important that we get the real facts out there and fight to control the narrative. This week we got news on the U.S. job market, and it confirms the recent trends: American workers are doing better than they have at any point since the 2008 crash and the Great Recession.
The number of first-time unemployment claims fell this week to the lowest amount since 1973. Considering that the population and the labor force are more than 50 percent higher than they were in the 1970s, that’s even more impressive. The number of Americans filing continuing unemployment claims likewise dropped to a 16-year low.
What about wages? We previously learned that, as of September, weekly earnings—adjusted for inflation—of production and non-supervisory workers reached a high not seen since the last months of the Carter administration. The very newest data from this week told us that average hourly wages increased year over year by 2.8 percent, while another measure—one that tracks what individuals earn over time, and thus is not subject to demographic changes such as disproportionately more people who are earning higher incomes retiring as the workforce ages—showed wage growth going up by 3.9 percent year over year. These are the best wage growth figures American workers have had since 2008.
Let’s talk about what this means going forward.
First of all, we need to make sure every American knows who is responsible for this success. And yes, although many Americans are suffering and have lost jobs, this is a real success. That matters because it is proof that our policies—the stimulus, making the tax code more progressive, protecting consumers and the environment, ensuring greater access to health care—are consistent with a strong job and wage growth environment. We just experienced the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and our economy recovered more quickly and more strongly than just about any other wealthy country.
This means that Donald Trump will inherit an economy that is vastly different from the one that faced President Obama eight years ago. Just as we rightly demanded that Obama not be blamed for what happened under George W. Bush, we must demand that Trump and, more importantly, Republican policies not be given credit for what Obama’s policies have accomplished.
Let’s also scream from the rooftops that President Obama’s proposals for increased infrastructure spending—an idea Trump now claims as his own—were blocked by Congressional Republicans at every turn specifically because they would help the economy—and because the GOP didn’t want a Democratic president to get credit.
One might ask how Hillary Clinton isn’t going to be the next president, given the improvements on jobs and to workers’ paychecks. Well, she is going to get more votes than Trump, perhaps as many as 2 million more according to estimates. Her lead already stands at 1.7 million (that we have elected a president who lost the popular vote twice in 16 years shows how fundamentally flawed our election system is, and the same would be true if it worked in my party’s favor).
Looking at exit polls, for whatever value they have, we see that Clinton won a majority of those voters who said the economy was “the most important issue facing the country:” 52 percent of voters said so, and she won them 52 to 42. By comparison, in 2012 more people said the economy was most important—59 percent of them did—and Obama lost those voters to Mitt Romney, 51 to 47. One interpretation is that when the economy is doing better, fewer people rate it as their top priority, and that hurts Democrats. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama became president during recessions, for example.
Hillary Clinton lost because of a small number of votes in three states. Perhaps if she’d talked more about the economy—both the successes of Democratic policies and what she’d do for those still left behind—she’d have picked up enough votes to overcome the electoral college’s flaws and the absurdly inappropriate actions of FBI Director James Comey.
It’s certainly true that the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to focus more on Trump’s bigotry than on the economy and her plans to help the economically vulnerable. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote: “It's something they bragged about at multiple stages of the campaign.” Morally, that was absolutely the right thing to do. But it may not have been the correct move politically, given that research clearly shows (here’s one famous example) that just about anything that reminds white voters that they are white makes them vote more Republican.
Going forward, this means that if we want to win elections, it’s still the economy, stupid. Democrats have to focus on the economy and talk about the record: how Republican policies cause huge messes and flow wealth toward those at the top, while Democratic policies get us out of those messes and—once they are in place long enough to take effect—do much better at creating an economy that works for the 99 percent, the people who benefit from a strong job market that produces good wage growth.
If Trump can take credit for what President Obama accomplished despite Republicans opposing his every move, he’ll easily win a second term.