The U.S. economy is working better for average Americans than it has for quite some time. That healthier economy is chugging along under the policies of only one of the two presidents pictured above, policies that his opponents derided and insulted when they were implemented. The other president, the one who has enacted zero comparably significant economic policies thus far, is Donald Trump.
Under President Obama, our government enacted major changes to our system of health coverage—in large part through increasing taxes on the wealthiest and using those funds to provide or subsidize coverage for those below the median income level—as well as other tax changes that further increased rates on those at the top. The Dodd-Frank law changed the regulatory structure for the financial industry, and put in place a new watchdog for financial industry consumers. Additionally, there was the 2009 stimulus package, which played a large role in halting the free fall our economy was in when Obama took office. And those are just the biggest accomplishments.
Now that the Census Bureau has released its economic data for 2016, we have a fuller picture of the economy Obama left Trump. And the picture is pretty impressive.
In 2016, real median household income—i.e., income growth above the rate of inflation—increased by 3.2 percent, and that’s on top of a 5.2 percent increase in 2015. Big picture: real median household income is now higher than it has ever been (Census officials noted that the bureau changed its household survey in 2013, which might have affected data comparisons at the margins, but the larger trend remains). Not only did income exceed the pre-Great Recession peak of 2007, it beat the all-time high, last reached in 1999. The Obama economic policies did that.
These increases occurred across racial lines for the most part, with black household growth (5.7 percent) and Latino (4.3 percent) even outpacing that of whites (2.0 percent) in 2016. The comparable growth numbers for 2015 are: 4.1 percent (black), 4.4 percent (white) and 6.1 percent (Latino).
Let’s talk about poverty:
2014: 46.6 million Americans in poverty. Poverty rate: 14.8 percent
2015: 43.1 million Americans in poverty. Poverty rate: 13.5 percent
2016: 40.7 million Americans in poverty. Poverty rate: 12.7 percent
This is an impressive drop of 2.1 percent over two years. 2016 represents the lowest poverty rate since 2007.
The following are numbers of Americans who lacked health insurance coverage for the entire year:
2014: 33 million people. 10.4 percent
2015: 29 million people. 9.1 percent
2016: 28 million people. 8.8 percent
By comparison, in 2010, before Obamacare took effect, 48.6 million people did not have coverage, representing 16 percent of the population. Obamacare cut that percentage almost in half. And while we’re in a comparing mood, liberal Massachusetts, the original home of the plan on which Obamacare is modeled (let’s give a nod to Mitt Romney, then an actual centrist who signed that plan into law), has only 2.5 percent of its people lacking coverage. The worst state? Ruby-red, right-wing Texas—one of the 19 states that rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion—at 16.6 percent, almost seven times the uninsured rate in Massachusetts.
Talk about the difference between what liberal and conservative governance does for Americans. Obamacare has been a tremendous success, which is why we must continue to fight any attempt to repeal and replace it with some version of Trumpcare, as Republicans are still trying do this month.
There’s a lot more data in the Census report, and I encourage you to read it. And there’s a lot of other economic data out there, in particular on job creation, that paints a similar picture.
This data is also vitally important to our political discourse. Trump’s presidential campaign shouted about lost jobs, stagnant wages, and a weak economy, and his pledge to turn things around was a part (but far from the only aspect, of course) of his appeal to voters. He’s now out there cheerleading about a “Trump bump” that has supposedly fueled improvements over the 2016 economy. According to actual economists, including conservative ones, this hasn’t happened.
Of course, since we’re Democrats who live in the real world and who are concerned about the many Americans who are still vulnerable and suffering in our economy, we believe that we can and must do better. Here’s the thing: Politics doesn’t ask people to choose between one party and perfection. Americans must choose between Democrats and Republicans.
In 2008, Americans chose to put Democrats, led by Barack Obama, in charge, in order to clean up the mess left by George W. Bush and the Republicans who had implemented their policies in previous years. Obama and the Democrats, as the data shows, did a damn good job, a much better one than the other party did when they had a turn. Democratic policies—while not perfect—performed much better for most Americans, in particular those at or below the middle, than those of Republicans.
The media and anyone with a public platform must work to prevent Donald Trump—who has changed essentially nothing about our country’s economic policies—from succeeding in the falsification of yet another set of facts. He cannot be allowed to claim the Obama boom as his own.