Pre-State of the Union: the “Great” Economy and You

Any Montanans who tuned their radios to Yellowstone Public Radio (YPR) and caught Morning Edition were treated to a preview of President Trump’s talking points/highlights during this evening’s scheduled State of the Union (SotU) address. Kellyanne Conway would not be deterred from her narrative by inconsequential things like facts or reality, and plowed ahead to drop plenty of alternative facts before the SotU. Talk of infrastructure and the current administration’s zero movement on investing in infrastructure generated a quick pivot toward claims of our “great economy”.

Americans have been treated to President Trump’s claims that the economy is the “best in the world” or the “best in history” (claims that have been easily debunked), and we suspect that we will hear similar boasts tonight. But a majority of Americans aren’t feeling the warm and fuzzies about the economy. Kellyanne said the economy is GREAT, because:

Unemployment is low.
Wages are up.
Wall Street is churning.

On the surface, this may sound “great”. But once you scratch below the surface on each of these claims, the reality emerges that the economy is far from “great” for most Americans.

The much-lauded tax cut is one year old and the few benefits (stock price activity and some jobs activity) are already a bust. “We added $1 trillion to the deficit and all I got was a MAGA hat that’s discounted to $15”. Wall Street churning is good — if you have disposable income and are invested in the stock market. Chat with any small town coffee group and you will still hear the woes of the Bush Recession and how many stock portfolios took a significant hit that they still haven’t recovered from. The volatility of the Trump economy is not good for long term, reliable investing and growth. Investors are not trusting the current rally (post-government shutdown), and many are waiting to see what Trump will say on tariffs and interest rates tonight. Wall Street churning doesn’t do much for Main Street and local economic movement; nor does it make the 78% of Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck comfortable and secure.

Unemployment may be low, but an estimated 22 million Americans are underemployed: working a job part-time that should be full-time; or a job that is significantly below their training, experience, and education. Underemployed workers typically make a lower wage (making it harder to pay off high student loan debt), less likely to invest locally or save money, and are likely to have more than one job (and either job may not offer benefits like retirement, healthcare, paid time off/sick leave). More than 44 million Americans have a “side hustle”; not for just some extra fun money, but as a crucial part of their monthly income to make ends meet.

Being employed is a sense of pride for the vast majority of Americans — but if the wage isn’t enough to live on, folks need side hustles or multiple jobs to cover the basic necessities. Wages are on a steady, but slow, incline up. But those wages are no where near where they were pre-Bush recession:

Wages have increased, but are still below pre-recession numbers. Graphic courtesy of:

Every year, the stagnated middle class and working poor dollar purchases less and less goods/services. Wages are being outpaced by inflation and exponential growth of the CEO and management class. Our productivity is exponentially up (we worker harder and we work more) but hourly compensation is stagnate.

Since 1973, pay and productivity have diverged. From 1973 to 2017, net productivity rose 77.0 percent, while the hourly pay of typical workers essentially stagnated—increasing only 12.4 percent over 44 years (after adjusting for inflation). This means that although Americans are working more productively than ever, the fruits of their labors have primarily accrued to those at the top and to corporate profits, especially in recent years. Source of graphic:

Wages are slowly climbing, but as we’ve illustrated above, they are not keeping pace with inflation, they are already far below where they should be, and we work harder/longer and are not appropriately compensated for our work as the fruits or our labor move mostly to the top of the food chain.

It’s a decently bleak picture regarding the American wage earner:

Minuscule or non-existent savings.
Overworked, most likely with 1.5 jobs, and under-compensated.
High personal debt.
Less than $400 in an emergency fund.
Increasing costs just for basics.
Growing income inequality.
Rising inflation.

Yes. It is bleak. And I don’t want anyone who listens to tonight’s SotU to be suckered in with boasts about how “great” this economy is (it isn’t for the majority of us), and promises of coming fortunes (the tax cut was a bust for low and middle income Americans). Montanans are pragmatic and practical — we know when the wool is being pulled over our eyes (we probably know a pretty gosh darn good shearer) — and it is time that we start the process of growing an economy that serves The People.

We’re the ones working hard. Our productivity is through the roof and out past sundown finishing up the goods before a late supper. We know all about squeezing blood from turnips, putting money away for a tough season, and never counting chickens. This economy isn’t working for the majority of us. It’s time for our leadership in Helena, our reps in D.C., and the Trump Administration to craft an economy that works for all Americans.


Listen to the full NPR Morning Edition interview with Kellanne Conway HERE.

This Fortune infographic spread from December 2018 has been making the internet rounds today. Food for thought.

Do you make enough hourly wage to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Montana? Check here.

Excellent analysis of brief Trump Economic boost as an “economic sugar high”. Looks like we are setup for a crash.

And if this blog post didn’t give you enough information on income inequality and the uphill battle we face, this article on U.S. income inequality breaks it down for you.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Plains Feminist

Montana and national politics from a Southeastern Montana perspective, focusing on regional activism, womxn’s issues, LGBTQ equality, education, and revitalization of the Montana Democratic Party. Plains Feminist tries (sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not so much) to connect with the hard-working folks who *eek* out a living on the “not mountains” side of the state. Plains Feminist enjoys intellectual banter over coffee or beer preferably after dark. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @PlainsFeminist.

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