In the time Donald Trump has been in the White House:
- Job growth slowed, but unemployment still sank to the lowest rate in 17 years.
- Economic growth quickened to 2.3 percent last year, but that was roughly half the rate Trump promised.
- The growth of federal regulations slowed markedly.
- The number of murders continued to rise, going up 1.5 percent during the first six months of 2017.
- Illegal border crossings dropped 40 percent — but are on the rise again.
- Corporate profits set a new record; wages rose 1.2 percent after inflation.
- Home prices rose 6.4 percent — nearly triple the rate of inflation.
- Stock prices soared; the S&P 500 index rose 17 percent, despite recent turmoil.
- The U.S. trade deficit grew nearly 17 percent larger, despite Trump’s promise to reduce it.
- The federal debt rose 6.9 percent, and annual federal deficits worsened.
This is our first quarterly update of the “Trump’s Numbers” scorecard that we posted in January. We’ll publish additional updates every three months, as fresh statistics become available.
As always, starting when we posted our first “Obama’s Numbers” article more than five years ago — and in the quarterly updates and final summary that followed — we’ve included statistics that may seem good or bad or just neutral, depending on the reader’s point of view.
We’ll say again, opinions will differ on how much credit or blame a president deserves for things that happen during his time in office. And we urge readers to be aware that some changes that have happened already during Trump’s time in office won’t show up in statistics until later updates. FBI crime figures for all of last year won’t be available until later this year, and the same goes for Census Bureau poverty and household income figures for 2017. We’ll cover those and more in quarterly updates to come.
Jobs and Unemployment
Job growth has slowed since Trump took office, but unemployment dropped to the lowest level in 17 years. Job-seekers became more scarce, and employers struggled to find workers.
Employment — Total nonfarm employment grew by more than 2.5 million during the president’s first 14 months in office, according to the most recent figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s steady, solid growth to be sure, continuing an unbroken chain of monthly gains in total employment that started in October 2010.
But the average monthly gain under Trump is 181,000 jobs, which is nearly 17 percent below the monthly average of 217,000 during Obama’s second term.
Trump will have to pick up the pace if he is to fulfill his campaign boast that he will be “the greatest jobs creation president that God ever created.”
Unemployment — One reason for the slowdown in job growth: fewer job-seekers. The unemployment rate — which was well below the historical norm when Trump took office — has continued to fall even lower, to the lowest point in 17 years.
The rate was 4.8 percent when he was sworn in, and Janet Yellen, then chair of the Federal Reserve, said the economy at the time was already close to what economists consider “full employment.”
Under Trump, the jobless rate fell further — to 4.1 percent in October, where it has remained for six months. That’s the lowest the rate has been since it hit 3.9 percent for four months in 2000, at the end of the dotcom boom.
The rate also is well below the historical norm of 5.6 percent, which is the median monthly rate for all the months since the start of 1948. The lowest unemployment rate ever recorded was in 1953, when the rate was 2.5 percent for a couple of months.
Job Openings — Another reason employment growth has slowed is a worsening shortage of workers. The number of unfilled job openings hit a new record of more than 6.2 million in September last year — the most in the 17 years the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking them.
It has since slipped back to below 6.1 million in February, the most recent month on record. But that’s still a gain of 608,000 — or 11.2 percent — since Trump took office.
Labor Force Participation — The labor force participation rate — which went down 2.8 percentage points during the Obama years — has remained essentially unchanged under Trump.
Republicans often criticized Obama for the decline even though it was due mostly to the post-World War II baby boomers reaching retirement age, and other demographic factors beyond the control of any president.
Since Trump took office the rate has fluctuated in a narrow range between 63.0 percent and 62.7 percent. (That’s the portion of the entire civilian population age 16 and older that is either employed or currently looking for work in the last four weeks.) It was 62.9 percent last month, exactly where it was the month Trump took office.
Manufacturing Jobs — Manufacturing jobs increased under Trump.
The number rose by 263,000 between Trump’s inauguration and March. That followed a net decrease of 192,000 under Obama.
However, the increase under Trump amounts to 2.3 percent, not much more than the 2.1 percent increase in overall employment. The number of manufacturing jobs is still more than 1.1 million below where it was in December 2007, at the start of the Great Recession.
The economy is growing faster under Trump — but not yet at the rate he promised, and not as fast as during the best years under Obama.
The economy grew by 2.3 percent for all of 2017, according to the final, official estimate of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s the “real” rate of growth in gross domestic product after accounting for price inflation.
That’s better than the 1.5 percent real GDP growth posted in 2016, but still far below the 4 percent to 6 percent rate Trump promised repeatedly, both when he was a candidate and also as president.
The 2.3 percent growth for Trump’s first year is actually lower than the three best years under Obama: 2.9 percent real growth in 2015, 2.6 percent in 2014 and 2.5 percent in 2010.
The economy was doing a bit better at the end of Trump’s first year than at the start, growing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the final three months of 2017.
An estimate for the first quarter of 2018 won’t be released until April 27. However, the “GDP Now” forecast produced by the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta projects that the first-quarter growth rate will come in at 2.0 percent — still well below what Trump promised.
Will growth eventually improve to the 4-to-6 percent range? Trump said the tax cuts he signed Dec. 22 will be “rocket fuel for our economy,” and on March 23 he signed big spending increases in a bipartisan budget deal that are also expected to stimulate economic activity (and increase federal deficits).
But few if any economists expect the growth the president promised. Among the most optimistic forecasts is that of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which projects real GDP to grow 3.3 percent this year, and 2.4 percent in 2019.
Others are less bullish. Of the business and university economists who offered an annual GDP forecast to the Wall Street Journal‘s monthly economic survey in March, the average prediction was for 2.8 percent growth this year and 2.5 percent next year.
Similarly, the National Association of Business Economists March survey produced a median forecast of 2.9 percent growth this year and 2.7 percent next year. And the most recent median forecast of the Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents is for 2.7 percent in 2018, 2.4 percent in 2019 and 2.0 percent in 2020.
The growth of federal regulation slowed under Trump — but hasn’t come to the “sudden, screeching and beautiful halt” he claims.
The number of restrictive words and phrases (such as “shall,” “prohibited” or “may not”) contained in the Code of Federal Regulations rose by 7,698 between the day Trump was sworn in and April 12, 2018, according to daily tracking done by the QuantGov project at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.
That’s an increase of 0.7 percent in the nearly 15 months since he took office — slower than in the past. The average annual growth during both the Obama years and the George W. Bush years was just under 1.5 percent, according to annual QuantGov tracking.
The Mercatus Center database provides a hard count of specific legal mandates and prohibitions imposed by federal regulators, which we find to be more relevant than counts of the number of pages or words in the rulebook. It doesn’t attempt to assess the cost or benefit of any particular rule — such assessments require a degree of guesswork and are sensitive to assumptions. But it does track the sheer volume of federal rules with more precision than we have found in other metrics.
At a Dec. 14 event at the White House, Trump said, “We’ve begun the most far-reaching regulatory reform in American history.” A White House fact sheet said that since Trump took office federal agencies had “withdrawn or delayed 1,579 planned regulatory actions.”
Some are quite significant. Within a month of taking office, for example, Trump signed a law nullifying an Obama-era rule prohibiting coal mining companies from dumping waste into streams and waterways.
Murders continued to increase under Trump, even as most other crime declined.
The number of homicides rose 1.5 percent during the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report.
However, the number of other violent crimes (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) turned down, after rising for the previous two years. Property crimes also decreased during the first half of last year, except for a 4.1 percent increase in the number of motor vehicle thefts.
The murder rate — as distinct from the number of murders — also likely rose during the first half of last year.
The FBI doesn’t calculate rates per 100,000 population for its “preliminary” six-month figures. Those will come in September when it releases crime figures for all of 2017. However, the Census Bureau estimates that the population grew by a little more than 0.7 percent between the first half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. So a 1.5 percent rise in murders during that period would translate into a rising murder rate as well.
The increase in murders continues a two-year trend that Trump denounced during his campaign, repeatedly claiming that the rate was “the highest it’s been in 45 years,” (which actually wasn’t close to being true.) During his inaugural address, he said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Not yet, it hasn’t.
Coal and Environment
Coal Mining Jobs — As a candidate, Trump promised to “put our [coal] miners back to work,” but so far not many have regained their jobs.
A total of 35,700 coal mining jobs disappeared during the Obama years, but as of March only 1,400 of them had come back under Trump, according to BLS figures.
The number employed in coal mining stood at 50,700 when Trump was sworn in, rose to 52,800 in September, but then slipped back to 52,100 in March. (The BLS rounds employment figures to the nearest 100.)
The outlook for coal miners remains bleak. The U.S. Energy Information Administration currently projects that U.S. coal production will decline 5 percent this year. EIA expects there will be less demand for exports, and increased use of natural gas to generate electricity.
Carbon Emissions — Carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption continued going down under Trump — but perhaps not for much longer.
They fell by 0.7 percent in 2017, after declining 1.6 percent the year before, according to the most recent estimates available from the Energy Information Administration. Since 2007, U.S. carbon emissions have gone down by a total of 14 percent, mainly due to electric utilities shifting away from coal-fired plants in favor of cheaper, cleaner natural gas, as well as solar and wind power.
Officials say that downward trend in emissions soon may be reversed. This month, EIA projected that carbon emissions would rise 0.9 percent this year, and by another 1 percent next year. But it said these projections “are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, and energy prices.”
Illegal border crossings declined sharply at first, but are now rising again.
The number of people caught while illegally trying to cross the U.S. border with Mexico each month plunged to a low of 11,127 in April of last year, according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But since then the number has more than tripled, hitting 37,393 last month.
Despite the recent surge, the monthly average during the first 14 full months of Trump’s tenure is still just under 22,100, a drop of 40 percent from the monthly average in 2016, the year before he took office (and 36 percent lower than the monthly average for all the months Barack Obama was in office).
Nevertheless, Trump on April 4 signed a memorandum authorizing the use of National Guard troops to curb what he called a “drastic surge” in both illegal border crossings and drug smuggling.
Meanwhile, Trump’s promised border wall is still little more than that — a promise. So far Congress hasn’t approved full funding for construction (and Mexico says it isn’t paying, either). A bipartisan spending bill that Trump signed in late March included enough money to start building some new barriers and to upgrade existing fencing and walls — but only along about 100 miles of the 2,000-mile border. Trump called that “just a down payment.”
Corporate profits rose to a record high under Trump, hitting an estimated $1.78 trillion in 2017.
That figure for after-tax profits comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (see line 45) and is the most recent available. It’s 5.5 percent higher than the full-year figure for 2016, and tops the previous record of $1.74 trillion set in 2014.
After-tax profits are expected to get a further boost in 2018, when the top federal tax rate on corporate income falls to 21 percent, from 35 percent, under the tax bill Trump signed into law Dec. 22.
Stock prices continued their long rise under Trump, setting record after record. But in recent weeks, they’ve given up some of the gain over fears Trump might trigger a trade war with China, or a shooting war in the Middle East.
As of the close on April 13, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock average was down 7.5 percent from the record high set on Jan. 26. But it was still 17.3 percent higher than it was on the last trading day before Trump’s inauguration.
Other indexes also hung onto gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, made up of 30 large corporations, was up 23.5 percent under Trump. And the NASDAQ Composite index, made up of more than 3,000 companies, was still 28.3 percent higher than before he took office.
The bull market that began in March 2009, at the depths of the Great Recession, has now passed its ninth anniversary. It would require a 20 percent drop from the Jan. 26 high to qualify as a bear market.
Wages and Inflation
The upward trend in wages continued under Trump, while prices continued to rise slowly.
CPI — The Consumer Price Index rose 2.2 percent during Trump’s first 14 months, continuing a period of historically low inflation.
The CPI rose an average of 6.8 percent each year during the 1970s, 5.7 percent during the 1980s, eased down to 3.1 percent during the 1990s and 2.1 percent in the next decade (measuring the 12-month change ending in December each year). Since 2010 that average 12-month increase has been 1.8 percent.
Wages — Wage increases outpaced inflation, and the purchasing power of weekly paychecks rose. The average weekly earnings of all private-sector workers, in “real” (inflation-adjusted) terms, rose 1.2 percent during his first 14 months, after going up 4.0 percent during Obama’s eight years.
Those figures are for all workers, including managers and supervisors. The real average weekly earnings of rank-and-file production and nonsupervisory workers have gone up 0.9 percent so far under Trump, after rising 3.7 percent during Obama’s years. Production and nonsupervisory workers make up 82 percent of the private sector workforce.
Consumer confidence in the economy rose to the highest level in 14 years.
The University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers reported that its Index of Consumer Sentiment hit 101.4 in March, the highest since January 2004.
The preliminary figure for April, released April 13, was a bit lower at 97.8. The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, said this was “mainly due to concerns about the potential impact of Trump’s trade policies on the domestic economy.” The final figure for April won’t be out until April 27.
The figure has waxed and waned during Trump’s time, reaching 100.7 in October, then dropping in November, December and January, only to rise again in the next two months.
Home Prices and Ownership
Home Prices — Home prices rose at nearly triple the rate of inflation under Trump.
The most recent sales figures from the National Association of Realtors show the national median price of an existing, single-family home sold in February was $243,400. That’s 6.4 percent above the median price of $228,700 for homes sold during the month he took office. The rise in the Consumer Price Index during the same period was 2.2 percent.
The median price was even higher earlier, hitting a record $265,500 in June 2017.
Home Ownership — Meanwhile the percentage of Americans who own their own homes has continued to recover from a years-long slide, gaining 0.5 percentage points since Trump took office.
The home ownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent of households for two quarters in 2004, then lost 6.3 percentage points in the next dozen years, hitting bottom at 62.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016. That 62.9 percent rate was the lowest point in more than half a century, and tied the lowest on record.
From there, the rate recovered 0.8 points before Trump took office, hitting 63.7 percent in the last quarter of 2016. Under his presidency, it has reached 64.2 percent in the last quarter of 2017, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures.
The trade deficit that Trump promised to reduce grew steadily larger instead.
The most recent government figures show that during the 12 months ending in February the U.S. imported nearly $590 billion more in goods and services than it exported. That trade gap was $84.8 billion higher (16.8 percent) than in 2016.
China — The goods-and-services trade deficit with China grew by 9 percent last year, to more than $337 billion.
Trump didn’t label China a “currency manipulator” as he had promised to do before he was elected. But in January he imposed a 30 percent tariff on solar panels to counter a surge of imports from China, and on March 22 Trump ordered officials to draw up a list of $50 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese goods in retaliation for China’s appropriation of U.S. intellectual property. China countered with proposed tariffs of its own on 106 items it imports from the U.S., setting the stage for possible negotiations. Later, China’s President Xi Jinping promised to open China “wider and wider” to world trade, but the practical outcome of this U.S.-China war of words remains to be seen.
Mexico — Meanwhile, the much smaller trade deficit in goods and services with Mexico grew by nearly 10 percent, to more than $69 billion.
Trump’s negotiations to alter the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada bogged down for all of 2017. The U.S. was reported to be showing more flexibility in 2018 and pushing to finish before Mexico’s elections in July, but at last report major issues remained to be resolved.
Health Insurance Coverage
The number of people lacking health insurance went up only somewhat, but millions more are expected to drop or lose coverage next year and in subsequent years.
The most recent report from the National Health Interview Survey estimates that during the first nine months of last year 28.9 million people were uninsured. That’s an increase of only 300,000 people from 2016, and still 19.7 million fewer than were uninsured in 2010, the year Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.
More recent polling by the Gallup organization found a larger increase — estimating that 3.2 million Americans entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017.
Trump conspicuously failed to “repeal and replace” Obama’s Affordable Care Act as he promised to do. But in December, he signed a tax bill that will end Obamacare’s tax penalty for people who fail to obtain coverage. At that point, Trump boasted to reporters that “Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone.” But that’s not so; the mandate remains in effect until 2019.
Trump notwithstanding, the number of people signing up in December through the ACA exchanges for coverage in 2018 dropped only slightly, to 11.8 million. That’s down from 12.2 million in 2017 and 12.6 million in 2016, according to the government’s final enrollment report released April 3.
The big impact is expected later. According to an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the end of the mandate next year will cause 4 million people to lose or drop coverage in 2019, rising to 12 million two years later and 13 million in 2025.
CBO said that ending the mandate would cause policy premiums for those buying individual policies to rise 10 percent in most years. “[H]ealthier people would be less likely to obtain insurance and … the resulting increases in premiums would cause more people to not purchase insurance,” CBO said.
The number of food stamp recipients went down under Trump — even as he proposed to cut the program.
As of January, the most recent month for which figures are available, more than 40.7 million people were receiving the aid, the lowest number since April 2010. The number has gone down nearly 2 million, or 4.5 percent, since January 2017, when Trump took office.
Now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the program was greatly expanded under President George W. Bush, during whose time 14.7 million beneficiaries were added, swelling the rolls by 85 percent. The rolls grew by another 33 percent during Obama’s time, when a net total of 10.7 million more were added.
But the number has generally been going down since peaking at nearly 47.8 million in December 2012, as the economy recovered from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and incomes improved. The numbers jumped up in August, September and October last year as part of the federal government’s disaster relief efforts following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and after wildfires in eight Western states. But that increase proved to be a temporary blip in the downward trend, with 4 million going off the rolls in November alone.
Trump is putting his mark on the federal courts more quickly than Obama was able to do in his first months.
Supreme Court — So far Trump has won Senate confirmation for one Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Obama also was able to fill one high court vacancy during his first year, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
District Court — Meanwhile, 17 of Trump’s nominees to be federal District Court judges have been confirmed (including two who were cleared by voice votes on April 12). That’s five more than the 12 for whom Obama had won confirmation at the same point in his presidency.
Federal Debt and Deficits
Trump inherited rising federal debt and deficits, and his tax cut and spending increases are projected to make both rise faster.
The federal debt held by the public stood at nearly $15.4 trillion at the last count on April 12, up 6.9 percent under Trump. And that figure will go up even faster in coming years unless Trump and Congress impose massive spending cuts, or reverse course and increase taxes.
The annual federal deficit for fiscal year 2017 (which ended Sept. 30 and was largely the result of spending and taxes set under Obama) was nearly $666 billion, up from just under $586 billion the year before.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had expected that deficit to drop a bit in the current year before resuming an indefinite upward path. But Trump’s cuts in corporate and individual income tax rates — as well as the bipartisan spending deal he signed Feb 9 — stand to cause the red ink to gush even faster.
On April 9, CBO officially estimated that the deficit for the current fiscal year (ending Sept. 30) would rise to $804 billion, and continue rising for the foreseeable future, exceeding $1 trillion annually starting in FY2020. (Deficit projections are in Summary Table 2, page 4.) Further, CBO said that under present law, federal debt held by the public will within a decade near 100 percent of the nation’s entire economic output, an amount “far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II.”
CBO’s projections take into account an increase in economic growth expected from Trump’s tax cuts. But the cuts fall well short of paying for themselves.
CBO projected that GDP would be 0.7 percent higher on average each year over the next 11 years as a result of the cuts. That’s enough to reduce the projected $2.3 trillion initial cost of the tax rate reductions (including both lost revenue and higher borrowing costs) by $461 billion — or about one-fifth. (See table B3.)
Oil Production and Imports
U.S. crude oil production resumed its upward trend under Trump, rising 6 percent during the most recent 12 months on record (ending in January), compared with all of 2016.
Domestic oil production has increased every year since 2008, except for a 5.6 percent drop in 2016 after prices plunged to below $30 a barrel, from more than $100 previously. The price returned to more than $50 a barrel by the end of 2016, prompting increased drilling and production.
As a result, the trend to reduce reliance on foreign oil also resumed. The U.S. imported only 18.8 percent of its oil and petroleum products in 2017, down from 24.4 percent in 2016. That figure continued to fall in the first two months of 2018, to 17.9 percent.
Dependence on imports peaked in 2005, when the U.S. imported 60.4 percent of its petroleum, and has declined every year since except for 2016, when it ticked up by 0.3 percentage points.
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