Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No one should be surprised, much less outraged, if President Biden spends the next year – or four! – blaming the Trump administration for every problem that remains with or emerges in the American economy, or any other dimension of national life. After all, problems do linger from presidency to presidency, and at least as important, it’s the politically expedient road to take — as much history shows.

Less justifiable are journalistic displays of such behavior. But if Tracy Jan’s January 22 Washington Post piece on African Americans and the economy is any indication, not only are four more years of blame-casting in store, but four more years of whoppingly inaccurate and indeed one-sided blame-casting are in store.

Actually, Jan’s article isn’t quite as slanted as the headline, which proclaims “The Trump Economy Left Black Americans Behind.” Readers are told right off the bat, for example, that racial economic gaps have persisted for decades, and that consequently “many black voters” have been “skeptical of the Democratic Party to represent their interests.” The author adds that “unemployment rates for Black people were at a historic low before the coronavirus shutdown, as Trump frequently reminded voters.”

But her dominant themes are that the CCP Virus pandemic has hit black America much harder economically than white, that therefore racial economic disparities have widened during the pandemic, that Trump’s mismanagement of the response was to blame, and that this CCP Virus period failure is enough to warrant labeling his entire term in office a racial economic justice flop.

I’d grade that first claim as largely accurate, as made clear by the impressive evidence Jan cites; the second claim as largely accurate, too; the third claim as more controversial, since it assumes that another President would have fared much better; and the fourth a wild stretch at best.

In fact, even if it is kosher to view 2020 developments as decisive in evaluating the Trump racial economic justice record, and the full range of policies that produced it, it’s important to note that two key indicators showed that the racial economic gap actually narrowed last year – median weekly earnings of full-time workers, and the headline unemployment rate.

Here are the (Labor Department) data for the former, going back to 2009 – the start of the Obama administration, which hasn’t been accused of having a particularly poor racial economic justice record. The numbers are in pre-inflation dollars, and because they come out quarterly, it’s possible to present the figures for the beginnings and ends of the Obama and Trump administrations, and for the CCP Virus period specifically. The ratios between the two are shown as well. 

                               non-hispanic white     non-hispanic black ratio     white-black

2Q 2009:                          757                                 592                             1.28:1

1Q 2017:                          894                                 679                             1.32:1

2Q 2017:                          886                                 689                             1.29:1

1Q 2020:                          980                                 775                             1.26:1

4Q 2020:                       1,007                                 792                             1.27:1

As made clear by the ratio numbers, even counting the pandemic period, weekly pay for the typical black full-time worker rose at a faster rate during the one Trump term than during the two Obama terms. Indeed, during the Obama presidency, the typical black full-time worker fell further behind his or her white counterpart. And between the final pre-virus period last year (the first quarter of 2020) and the final quarter of the year, the gap widened minimally.

The headline unemployment rates that come out monthly (also from the Labor Department) permit an even more precise comparison of the Obama and Trump records, and of the Trump record during the CCP Virus period. And as made clear below, the story they tell (including the ratios presented in the right hand column) isn’t terribly different from that of the weekly pay figures.

                               non-hispanic white     non-hispanic black     white-black

Feb. 09:                              7.6                            13.7                       0.55:1

Jan. 17:                               4.2                             7.4                        0.57:1

Feb. 17:                              4.0                             8.0                        0.50:1

Feb. 20:                              3.5                             6.0                        0.58:1

Dec. 20:                             6.0                             9.9                        0.60:1

The white headline unemployment rate started the Obama years – as the last, post-financial crisis Great Recession was still worsening – at only 55 percent of the rate for blacks. By the final month of his tenure, the white rate had risen to 57 percent of the black rate, meaning that the gap had narrowed slightly. It narrowed significantly faster during the pre-pandemic Trump years, sinces during the former President’s first full month in office, the white rate stood at half the black rate, and hit 58 percent last February, the final full pre-virus month). During the pandemic in 2020, the white-black ratio narrowed even further.

Jan’s narrative is much stronger for data called the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR), which gives a more accurate picture of the national employment scene because it reveals and takes into account how many adult Americans have become so discouraged in their search for work that they’ve just given up. The higher the LFPR (also tracked by the Labor Department), the fewer the number of these discouraged workers and vice versa.

                              non-hispanic white     non-hispanic black    white-black

Feb. 09:                            66.2                            62.9                     1.05:1

Jan. 17:                             62.8                            62.2                     1.01:1

Feb. 17:                            62.8                            62.2                     1.01:1

Feb. 20:                            63.2                            63.1                     1.00:1

Dec. 20:                           61.6                            59.8                      1.03:1

These statistics are released monthly (as part of the overall jobs reports) and, as you can see, tend to change only very slowly. But as shown by the dramatic (by these standards) LFPR drop for blacks, the pandemic period has been a stunning exception to the detriment of African Americans. Until then, though, the Obama and Trump results weren’t notably different, especially considering that the former was President twice as long as the latter.

Lots of other relevant statistics only go through 2019, and they don’t exactly scream “Trump failure,” either. Check out one dataset that’s attracted special, and deserved attention – the racial wealth gap. As noted by two other Post writers last year, “More wealth makes for more a comfortable, safer living. And, more importantly, it is passed on to the next generation. Their parents’ wealth gives many white children a boost at birth, an advantage many of their black peers lack.” And my post on the subject at that time expressed full agreement.

The official wealth gap figures come from the Federal Reserve, and are issued only every three years. But since last June (when I first reported on them), we’ve gotten the results (for median households in inflation-adjusted dollars) for 2019. As shown below, they report that although the Obama years saw considerable backsliding, the Trump years showed even greater progress in narrowing disparities:

                               non-hispanic white     non-hispanic black     white-black 

2010:                               144.3                              17.6                    8.20:1

2013:                               146.4                              13.6                  10.76:1

2016:                               181.9                              18.2                    9.99:1

2019:                               188.2                              24.1                    7.81:1

By contrast, the after-inflation dollar median household income numbers (which measure what’s earned each year versus what’s owned in toto) show pre-virus backsliding under Trump. (Here I’m using Labor Department figures as presented by the Economic Policy Institute — definitely a part of “MAGA World” — because they take into account some recent methodological changes made by the Labor Department.)  

                              non-hispanic white     non-hispanic black     white-to-black

2009:                             67,352                         40,231                      1.67:1

2016:                             69,292                         42,684                      1.62:1

2019:                             76,057                         46,073                      1.65:1

Biden has four years to show his racial economic justice stuff, and all Americans should hope that he makes further progress. But where Jan (and so many others) seem to be expecting a major improvement over his predecessors’ record, it seems just as legitimate to wonder if he’ll wind up matching it – even after the results for CCP Virus-ridden 2020 are in.