Economic policy of Donald Trump
The economic policies of Donald Trump, which were outlined in his campaign pledges, include trade protectionism, illegal immigration reduction, individual and corporate tax reform, the dismantling of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").
Bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") did not pass Congress in mid-2017. However, Trump's tax reform plan was signed into law in December 2017, which included substantial tax cuts for higher income taxpayers and corporations as well as repeal of a key Obamacare element, the individual mandate. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) reported that the new tax law would slightly increase the size of the economy (level of GDP, not growth rate) by 0.7% total over a decade. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in April 2018 that implementing the Tax Act would add an estimated $2.289 trillion to the national debt over ten years, or about $1.891 trillion ($15,000 per household) after taking into account macroeconomic feedback effects, in addition to the $9.8 trillion increase forecast under the current policy baseline and existing $20 trillion national debt. Debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP would rise from around 77% GDP in 2017 to as much as 105% GDP by 2028.
The CBO reported that lower-income groups would incur net costs under the tax plan, either paying higher taxes or receiving fewer government benefits: those under $20,000 by 2019; those under $40,000 from 2021 to 2025; and those under $75,000 in 2027 and beyond. Up to 13 million fewer persons would be covered by health insurance relative to prior law, due to repealing the individual mandate to have health insurance. As a result, critics argued the tax bill unfairly benefited higher-income taxpayers and corporations at the expense of lower-income taxpayers, and therefore would significantly increase income inequality.
Trump's basic economic strategy has been to temporarily boost growth by increasing the deficit via tax cuts and additional spending, with mixed success. Comparing the 2015–2016 period (President Obama’s last two years) with the 2017–2018 period (President Trump’s first two years), actual results included several variables that continued their previous improvement trends, such as the unemployment rate, which had been falling since late 2009. Some variables improved (e.g., real GDP growth and nominal wage growth) while others worsened (e.g., inflation and real wage growth). The annual budget deficits of $779 billion in 2018 and $984 billion in 2019 were about 60% above the CBO forecasts just prior to Trump's inauguration. The trade deficit rose from 2.7% GDP in 2016 to 3.0% in 2018. However, more jobs were created in the last 35 months of the Obama Administration (8.0 million or 227,000/month on average) than the first 35 months of the Trump Administration (6.2 million or 177,000/month on average following a downward revision), through December 2019. The number without health insurance increased by 1.9 million or 7% from the end of 2016 through 2018; 2017 was the first year since 2010 with an increase. One study indicated Trump's implemented and threatened tariffs as of May 2019 would cost the typical household an estimated $830 per year. The stock market (S&P500) was up a cumulative 45% through Trump's first three years, versus 53% for Obama and 57% for Clinton.
One July 2018 study indicated Trump's policies have had little impact on the U.S. economy in terms of GDP or employment. Analysis conducted by Bloomberg News at the end of Trump's second year in office found that his economy ranked sixth among the last seven presidents, based on fourteen metrics of economic activity and financial performance. Through his first three years in office, Trump falsely characterized the economy during his presidency as the best in American history over 240 times.
- 1 Economic strategy
- 2 Overall evaluations
- 3 Statistical summary
- 4 Health care reform efforts
- 5 Federal budget deficit and debt
- 6 Taxation
- 7 Employment
- 8 Economic growth
- 9 Infrastructure, inflation, and energy
- 10 Trade
- 10.1 Overview
- 10.2 Trans-Pacific partnership
- 10.3 Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
- 10.4 Value of the dollar
- 10.5 Trade deficit
- 10.6 Tariffs
- 10.7 Foreign investment in United States
- 10.8 Criticism
- 11 Deregulation
- 12 Household financial position
- 13 Corporate profits
- 14 Income and wealth inequality
- 15 Evolution of economic policies
- 15.1 Early economic plan
- 15.2 Economic growth
- 15.3 Taxation
- 15.4 National debt
- 15.5 Social Security and Medicare
- 15.6 Monetary policy
- 15.7 Financial regulation and other regulations
- 15.8 Trade policy
- 15.9 Income inequality
- 15.10 Economic history
- 15.11 Student loans
- 15.12 Infrastructure
- 15.13 Employment
- 15.14 Other economic topics
- 15.15 Advisors
- 16 See also
- 17 References
- 18 External links
The economic policy positions of United States President Donald Trump prior to his election had elements from across the political spectrum. However, once in office his actions indicated a politically rightward shift towards more conservative economic policies.
Prior to election, then-candidate Trump proposed sizable income tax cuts and deregulation consistent with conservative (Republican Party) policies, along with significant infrastructure investment and status-quo protection for entitlements for the elderly, typically considered liberal (Democratic Party) policies. His anti-globalization policies of trade protectionism and immigration reduction cross party lines. This combination of policy positions from both parties could be considered "populist" and likely succeeded in converting some of the 2012 Obama voters who became Trump voters in 2016.
Economists generally agree that the aging and retirement of "baby boomers" pose a challenge to strong economic growth in future years, relative to prior decades when boomers were entering and advancing in the labor force. As boomers exit the labor force, new workers need to enter the labor force to replace them in order to maintain and grow the economic output of prior decades. Many economists see immigration as a key to providing such new workers, suggesting that Trump's immigration reduction policies run counter to his promises of robust economic growth.
President Trump's 2018 United States federal budget was a statement of his administration's economic priorities for the following decade and indicated a rightward shift relative to the January 2017 current law baseline:
- Republican agenda elements: Nearly $2 trillion in healthcare spending reductions (primarily from Medicaid, a program for lower-income persons), about $1.5 trillion in non-defense discretionary spending cuts, and about $1 trillion in corporate and income tax cuts, representing a net deficit reduction of $2.5 trillion.
- Democratic agenda elements: A net reduction in defense spending of $300 billion, and about $200 billion more for infrastructure, for a net deficit reduction of $100 billion.
President Trump's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) did not pass a Republican-controlled Senate during the summer of 2017, although they did pass the more conservative House of Representatives. The proposals were highly unpopular, as they were expected to reduce insurance coverage and increase insurance premium costs on the ACA exchanges. However, a variety of efforts to hinder the implementation of the ACA were implemented through executive order or by other means. These actions also were expected to reduce coverage and increase costs relative to the current law baseline. These efforts were mainly an appeal to the conservative Republican base, which favors repealing and replacing the ACA.
President Trump's comprehensive tax reform plan, the $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, was successfully passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax reform package included across-the-board tax cuts for both individuals and businesses. U.S. corporations and pass-through businesses received significant tax relief. The new law also repealed the individual mandate of the ACA that imposed taxes on individuals who did not purchase health insurance, indirectly reducing subsidies to lower-income persons by an estimated $330 billion over a decade. This indicated a further rightward shift towards capital (business owners) and away from labor (workers). The Tax Policy Center estimated that the bottom 80% of taxpayers would receive approximately 35% of the benefit from the law initially and none of the benefit after 2027, indicating it would significantly worsen income and wealth inequality. At the time of its passage, this legislation was among the most unpopular of any tax bill since the 1980s—including the tax increases of 1990 and 1993.
Journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote in December 2017 that while Trump campaigned as a populist, much of his post-election economic agenda has been consistent with far-right economic policy: "His decision to refashion himself in office as a down-the-line exponent of hard-right policies has been the key strategic decision of the Trump presidency." Yglesias hypothesized this was a bargain to reduce Congressional oversight of the executive branch.
Economist Justin Wolfers wrote in February 2019: "I've reviewed surveys of about 50 leading economists--liberals and conservatives--run by the University of Chicago. What is startling is that the economists are nearly unanimous in concluding that Mr. Trump's policies are destructive." He assigned a letter grade of A- to the economy's performance overall, despite "failing grades" for Trump's policies, including an "F" grade for trade policy, "D-" for fiscal policy, and a "C" for monetary policy. One July 2018 study indicated Trump's policies have had little impact on the U.S. economy in terms of GDP or employment.
Writing in The New York Times, Steven Rattner explained in August 2018 that "Yes, the economy is continuing to expand nicely, which all Americans should celebrate. But no, there’s nothing remarkable in the overall results since Mr. Trump took office. Most importantly, there is little evidence that the president’s policies have meaningfully improved the fortunes of those 'forgotten' Americans who elected him." Rattner explained that job creation and real wage growth had slowed comparing the end of the Obama administration with an equal period elapsed during the Trump administration; that the 4.1% real GDP growth in Q2 2018 was increased by non-recurring trade contributions and was exceeded during four quarters of the Obama Administration; that 84% of the benefits of the Trump tax cuts would go to businesses and individuals with incomes greater than $75,000 (thus increasing inequality); that the tax cuts and spending increases were forecast to increase the budget deficit in 2019 to nearly $1 trillion, double the previous forecast; and that half the benefit of the tax cuts for the typical middle-class worker in 2018 would be offset by higher gas prices. Rattner expanded his analysis in December 2018, explaining further that the debt to GDP ratio was on a much higher trajectory compared to the forecast when Trump took office, with as much as $16 trillion more federal debt added over a decade.
Writing in the Washington Post, Heather Long explained in August 2019 that: "[A] closer look at the data shows a mixed picture in terms of whether the economy is any better than it was in Obama’s final years. The economy is growing at about the same pace as it did in Obama’s last years, and unemployment, while lower under Trump, has continued a trend that began in 2011." Nominal wages, consumer and business confidence, and manufacturing job creation (initially) compared favorably, while government debt, trade deficits, and persons without health insurance did not.
Writing in the Washington Post, Phillip Bump explained that for Trump's first term as of September 2019, performance on several key variables was comparable or below Obama's second term (January 2013 - September 2016), as follows: 1) Real GDP was up 7.5% cumulatively under Obama, versus 7.2% under Trump; 2) The total number of jobs was up 5.3% for Obama, versus 4.3% under Trump; 3) The S&P 500 was up moderately more under Obama at +39.9% versus Trump at +34.2%; 4) The unemployment rate fell 2.9 percentage points under Obama versus 1.2 points under Trump; and 5) the national debt was up 10.5% under Obama, versus 15.1% under Trump.
The following table illustrates some of the key economic variables in the last three years of the Obama Administration (2014–2016), actual results for the first two years of the Trump Administration (2017–2018), and 2019 forecasts from various sources (Fed, CBO, year-to-date October or Q3 actual averages, or latest value available). The arrows indicate whether the variable is better (green arrow) or worse (red arrow) than the prior year.
|Real GDP growth||2.5%||2.9%||1.6%||2.4%||2.9%||2.2%|
|Job creation per month (000s)||251||227||193||179||223||176|
|Mfg. job creation per month (000s)||17||6||-1||16||22||4|
|Unemployment rate (December)||5.6%||5.0%||4.7%||4.1%||3.9%||3.5%|
|Labor force participation Age 25-54 (Dec)||80.9%||81.0%||81.4%||81.9%||82.3%||82.9%|
|Inflation rate (CPI-All, Avg.)||1.6%||0.1%||1.3%||2.1%||2.4%||1.8%|
|Poverty rate %||14.8%||13.5%||12.7%||12.3%||11.8%||Not Avail.|
|Real median household income $||$56,969||$59,901||$61,779||$62,626||$63,179||Not Avail.|
|Real wage growth %||0.4%||2.2%||1.3%||0.4%||0.6%||1.3%|
|Productivity growth %||0.9%||1.3%||0.3%||1.3%||1.3%||1.6%|
|Mortgage rate 30-yr fixed (avg.)||4.2%||3.9%||3.7%||4.0%||4.5%||3.9%|
|Gas prices (avg.)||$3.36||$2.43||$2.14||$2.42||$2.72||$2.60|
|Stock market annual % increase (SP 500)||+11.4%||-0.7%||+9.5%||+19.4%||-6.2%||+28.9%|
|Budget deficit % GDP||2.8%||2.4%||3.2%||3.5%||3.9%||4.7%|
|Number uninsured (millions)||35.7||28.4||28.2||28.9||30.1||Not avail.|
|Trade deficit % GDP||2.8%||2.7%||2.7%||2.8%||3.0%||3.0%|
|Debt held by public % GDP||73.7%||72.5%||76.4%||76.1%||77.8%||78.9%|
|Growth in Real Federal Debt Held By Public||TBD||4.5%||3.3%||0.5%||6.8%||5.9%|
|Inequality: Third Quintile Income Share||14.3%||14.3%||14.2%||14.0%||14.1%||Not avail.|
Health care reform efforts
Health care coverage and cost results
On January 15, 2017, president-elect Trump said he was nearing completion of a new health insurance program to replace Obamacare, stating, "We're going to have insurance for everybody." One year later, Gallup reported that the percentage of uninsured adults rose from a record low of 10.9% in Q4 2016 to 12.2% in Q4 2017; the 1.3 percentage point increase represented 3.2 million more Americans without insurance. Combining the Kaiser Family Foundation estimate of 28 million uninsured in 2016 with the 3.2 million increase in the Gallup poll would indicate there were about 31 million without insurance in Q4 2017. The Washington Post cited research indicating that 3.2 million more uninsured represents 4,000 avoidable deaths.
Gallup reported that the uninsured rate rose again to a four-year high of 13.7% as of Q4 2018, representing a 7 million increase in the uninsured relative to 2016, the end of the Obama Administration. The uninsured rates increased the most for women, young adults, and the lower-income (households under $48,000). Regionally, the South had the highest uninsured rate at 19.6%, up 3.8% since 2016. Gallup cited a "number of factors" in the increase, including: an increase in 2018 premiums; reduction in marketing and enrollment periods; reduced funding for enrollment support; elimination of the individual mandate; and elimination of cost-sharing reduction subsidies.
The New York Times reported in December 2017 that about 8.8 million persons signed up for ACA coverage via the marketplace exchanges for the 2018 policy period, roughly 96% of the 9.2 million who signed-up for the 2017 policy period. An estimated 2.4 million were new customers and 6.4 million returned. These figures represent the national Healthcare.gov exchanges in 39 states and not 11 states that operate their own exchanges and also reported strong enrollment. The enrollment numbers "essentially defied President Trump's assertion that 'Obamacare is imploding'".
About 80% of persons who buy insurance through the marketplaces qualify for subsidies to help pay premiums. The Trump Administration reported in October 2017 that the average subsidy would rise to $555 per month in 2018, up 45% from 2017. This increase was due significantly to the actions it took to hinder ACA implementation. Prior to Trump taking office, several insurance companies estimated there would be a 10% increase in premiums and related subsidies for 2017.
Both government and private analyses indicate gains in healthcare coverage under President Obama began to reverse under President Trump.
- The Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of uninsured persons under age 65 rose from 28.2 million in 2016 to 30.1 million in 2018, an increase of 1.9 million or 7%; 2017 was the first year since 2010 with an increase. The rate of uninsured rose from 10.4% in 2016 to 11.1% in 2018.
- The Commonwealth Fund estimated in May 2018 that the number of uninsured increased by 4 million from early 2016 to early 2018. The rate of those uninsured increased from 12.7% in 2016 to 15.5%. This was due to two factors: 1) Not addressing specific weaknesses in the ACA; and 2) Actions by the Trump administration that exacerbated those weaknesses. The impact was greater among lower-income adults, who had a higher uninsured rate than higher-income adults. Regionally, the South and West had higher uninsured rates than the North and East. Further, those 18 states that have not expanded Medicaid had a higher uninsured rate than those that did.
- The Census Bureau reported in September 2019 that the number of uninsured increased from 25.6 million in 2017 to 27.5 million in 2018, an increase of 1.9 million or 7%. The rate of uninsured increased from 7.9% to 8.5%.
President Trump advocated repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare"). The Republican-controlled House passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in May 2017, handing it to the Senate, which decided to write its own version of the bill rather than voting on the AHCA. The Senate bill, called the "Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" (BCRA), failed on a vote of 45–55 in the Senate during July 2017. Other variations also failed to gather the required support, facing unanimous Democratic Party opposition and some Republican opposition. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bills would increase the number of uninsured by over 20 million persons while reducing the budget deficit marginally.
Actions to hinder implementation of ACA
President Trump continued Republican attacks on the ACA while in office, according to the New York Times, including steps such as:
- Weakening the individual mandate through his first executive order, which resulted in limiting enforcement of mandate penalties by the IRS. For example, tax returns without indications of health insurance ("silent returns") will still be processed, overriding instructions from the Obama administration to the IRS to reject them.
- Reducing funding for advertising for the 2017 and 2018 exchange enrollment periods by up to 90%, with other reductions to support resources used to answer questions and help people sign-up for coverage. This action could reduce ACA enrollment.
- Cutting the enrollment period for 2018 by half, to 45 days. The NYT editorial board referred to this as part of a concerted "sabotage" effort.
- Issuing public statements that the exchanges are unstable or in a death spiral. CBO reported in May 2017 that the exchanges would remain stable under current law (ACA), but would be less stable if the AHCA were passed.
Several insurers and actuary groups cited uncertainty created by President Trump, specifically non-enforcement of the individual mandate and not funding cost sharing reduction subsidies, as contributing 20–30 percentage points to premium increases for the 2018 plan year on the ACA exchanges. In other words, absent Trump's actions against the ACA, premium increases would have averaged 10% or less, rather than the estimated 28–40% under the uncertainty his actions created. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) maintains a timeline of many "sabotage" efforts by the Trump Administration.
Ending cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments
President Trump announced in October 2017 he would end the smaller of the two types of subsidies under the ACA, the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies. This controversial decision significantly raised premiums on the ACA exchanges (as much as 20 percentage points) along with the premium tax credit subsidies that rise with them, with the CBO estimating a $200 billion increase in the budget deficit over a decade. CBO also estimated that initially up to one million fewer would have health insurance coverage, although more might have it in the long run as the subsidies expand. CBO expected the exchanges to remain stable (e.g., no "death spiral") as the premiums would increase and prices would stabilize at the higher (non-CSR) level.
President Trump's argument that the CSR payments were a "bailout" for insurance companies and therefore should be stopped, actually results in the government paying more to insurance companies ($200B over a decade) due to increases in the premium tax credit subsidies. Journalist Sarah Kliff therefore described Trump's argument as "completely incoherent."
Repeal of the ACA individual mandate
President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law in December 2017, which included the repeal of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This removed the requirement that all persons purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 13 million fewer persons would be covered by health insurance by 2027 relative to prior law and insurance premiums on the exchanges would increase by about 10 percentage points. This is because removing the mandate encourages younger and typically healthier persons to opt out of health insurance on the ACA exchanges, increasing premiums for the remainder. The non-group insurance market (which includes the ACA exchanges) would continue to be stable (i.e., no "death spiral"). CBO estimated this would reduce government spending for healthcare subsidies to lower income persons by up to $338 billion in total during the 2018–2027 period compared to the prior law baseline. Trump stated in an interview with The New York Times in December 2017: "I believe we can do health care in a bipartisan way, because we've essentially gutted and ended Obamacare."
The CBO released an analysis on May 23, 2018 indicating that repeal of the individual mandate will increase the number of uninsured by 3 million and increase individual healthcare insurance premiums by 10% through 2019. The CBO projected that another 3 million would become uninsured over the following two years due to repeal of the mandate. CBO released an analysis in May 2019 that stated: "By 2021, in the current baseline, 7 million more people are uninsured than would have been if the individual mandate penalty had not been repealed; subsequently, that number remains roughly constant to the end of the projection period in 2029."
On June 7, 2018, the Trump Justice Department notified a federal court that the ACA provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions were inextricably linked to the individual mandate and so must be struck down, hence the Department would no longer defend those provisions in court. Polls have consistently shown that the pre-existing conditions provisions have been the most popular aspect of ACA.
Federal budget deficit and debt
President Trump's policies have significantly increased the budget deficits and U.S. debt trajectory over the 2018-2027 time periods.
- Fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) ran from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018. It was the first fiscal year budgeted by President Trump. The Treasury department reported on October 15, 2018 that the budget deficit rose from $666 billion in FY2017 to $779 billion in FY2018, an increase of $113 billion or 17.0%. Corporate tax receipts fell by 31%, accounting for most of the deficit increase. Compared with 2017, tax receipts fell by 0.8% GDP, while outlays fell by 0.4% GDP. The 2018 deficit was an estimated 3.9% of GDP, up from 3.5% GDP in 2017.
- The FY2018 deficit increased about 60% from the $487 billion level forecast by CBO in January 2017, just prior to Trump's inauguration. The deficit increase relative to this forecast was due to Trump's tax cuts and additional spending. CBO forecast in January 2017 that tax revenues in fiscal year 2018 would be $3.60 trillion if laws in place as of January 2017 continued. However, actual 2018 revenues were $3.33 trillion, a shortfall of $270 billion (7.5%) relative to the forecast. This difference is primarily due to the Tax Act. In other words, revenues would have been considerably higher in the absence of the tax cuts.
- The debt additions projected by CBO for the 2018-2027 period have increased from the $9.4 trillion that Trump inherited from Obama (January 2017 CBO baseline) to $13.7 trillion (CBO current policy baseline), a $4.3 trillion or 46% increase.
As a presidential candidate, Trump pledged to eliminate $19 trillion in federal debt in eight years. Trump and his economic advisers initially pledged to radically decrease federal spending in order to reduce the country's budget deficit. A first estimate of $10.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years was reported on January 19, 2017, although cuts of this size did not appear in Trump's 2018 budget. However, the CBO forecast in the April 2018 baseline for the 2018–2027 period includes much larger annual deficits than the January 2017 baseline he inherited from President Obama, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and other spending bills.
Wells Fargo Economics reported in May 2018 that: "Despite stronger predicted economic growth in the short term, a combination of tax cuts and surging spending have led the budget deficit to widen as a share of GDP, with more deterioration expected over the next year or two. This pattern is historically unusual, as budget deficits typically expand during recession, gradually close during the recoveries and then begin widening again at the next onset of economic weakness."
The New York Times reported in August 2019 that: "The increasing levels of red ink stem from a steep falloff in federal revenue after Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which lowered individual and corporate tax rates, resulting in far fewer tax dollars flowing to the Treasury Department. Tax revenues for 2018 and 2019 have fallen more than $430 billion short of what the budget office predicted they would be in June 2017, before the tax law was approved that December."
CBO baseline projections
In January 2017, the Congressional Budget Office reported its baseline budget projections for the 2017–2027 time periods, based on laws in place as of the end of the Obama administration. CBO forecasted that "debt held by the public" would increase from $14.2 trillion in 2016 to $24.9 trillion by 2027, an increase of $10.7 trillion. The sum of deficits (debt addition) for the 2018-2027 period would be $9.4 trillion. These increases are primarily driven by an aging population, which impacts the costs of Social Security and Medicare, along with interest on the debt.
As President Trump introduces his budgetary policies, the impact can be measured against the January 2017 baseline. For example, the CBO April 2018 current law baseline included a debt increase of $11.7 trillion for 2018-2027, a $2.3 trillion increase ($18,200/household) versus the January 2017 baseline of $9.4 trillion, mainly due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The CBO April 2018 current policy or alternate baseline included a debt increase of $13.7 trillion for 2018-2027, a $4.3 trillion increase ($34,000/household) versus the January 2017 baseline. The current policy baseline assumes the tax cuts are extended beyond their scheduled expiration date. The per-household figures are computed using the 2017 figure of about 126.2 million households.
CBO also estimated that if policies in place as of the end of the Obama administration continued over the following decade, real GDP would grow at approximately 2% per year, the unemployment rate would remain around 5%, inflation would remain around 2%, and interest rates would rise moderately. President Trump's economic policies can also be measured against this baseline.
CBO scoring of the 2018 budget
A budget document is a statement of goals and priorities, but requires separate legislation to achieve them. As of January 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the primary legislation passed that moved the budget closer to the priorities set by Trump.
Trump released his first budget, for FY2018, on May 23, 2017. It proposed unprecedented spending reductions across most of the federal government, totaling $4.5 trillion over ten years, including a 33% cut for the State Department, 31% for the EPA, 21% each for the Agriculture Department and Labor Department, and 18% for the Department of Health and Human Services, with single-digit increases for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department. The Republican-controlled Congress promptly rejected the proposal. Instead, Congress pursued an alternative FY2018 budget linked to their tax reform agenda; this budget was adopted in late 2017, after the 2018 fiscal year had begun. The budget agreement included a resolution specifically providing for $1.5 trillion in new budget deficits over ten years to accommodate the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that would be enacted weeks later. Trump released his second budget, for FY2019, on February 23, 2018; it also proposed major spending reductions, totaling $3 trillion over ten years, across most of the federal government. This budget was also largely ignored by the Republican-controlled Congress. One month later, Trump signed a $1.3 trillion bipartisan, omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the end of FY2018, hours after he had threatened to veto it. The bill increased both defense and domestic expenditures, and Trump was sharply criticized by his conservative supporters for signing it. Trump then vowed, "I will never sign another bill like this again."
The Congressional Budget Office reported its evaluation of President Trump's FY2018 budget on July 13, 2017, including its effects over the 2018–2027 period.
- Mandatory spending: The budget cuts mandatory spending by a net $2,033 billion (B) over the 2018–2027 period. This includes reduced spending of $1,891B for healthcare, mainly due to the proposed repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare); $238B in income security ("welfare"); and $100B in reduced subsidies for student loans. This savings would be partially offset by $200B in additional infrastructure investment.
- Discretionary spending: The budget cuts discretionary spending by a net $1,851 billion over the 2018–2027 period. This includes reduced spending of $752 billion for overseas contingency operations (defense spending in Afghanistan and other foreign countries), which is partially offset by other increases in defense spending of $448B, for a net defense cut of $304B. Other discretionary spending (cabinet departments) would be reduced by $1,548B.
- Revenues would be reduced by $1,000B, mainly by repealing the ACA, which had applied higher tax rates to the top 5% of income earners. Trump's budget proposal was not sufficiently specific to score other tax proposals; these were simply described as "deficit neutral" by the Administration.
- Deficits: CBO estimated that based on the policies in place as of the start of the Trump administration, the debt increase over the 2018–2027 period would be $10,112B. If all of President Trump's proposals were implemented, CBO estimated that the sum of the deficits (debt increases) for the 2018–2027 period would be reduced by $3,276B, resulting in $6,836B in total debt added over the period.
- CBO estimated that the debt held by the public, the major subset of the national debt, would rise from $14,168B (77.0% GDP) in 2016 to $22,337B (79.8% GDP) in 2027 under the President's budget, versus 91.2% GDP under the pre-Trump policy baseline.
Actual results FY2017
Fiscal year 2017 (FY2017) ran from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017; President Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, so he began office in the fourth month of the fiscal year, which was budgeted by President Obama. In FY2017, the actual budget deficit was $666 billion, $80 billion more than FY2016. FY2017 revenues were up $48 billion (1%) vs. FY2016, while spending was up $128 billion (3%). The deficit was $107 billion more than the CBO January 2017 baseline forecast of $559 billion. The deficit increased to 3.5% GDP, up from 3.2% GDP in 2016 and 2.4% GDP in 2015.
Fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) ran from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018. It was the first fiscal year budgeted by President Trump. The Treasury department reported on October 15, 2018 that the budget deficit rose from $666 billion in FY2017 to $779 billion in FY2018, an increase of $113 billion or 17.0%. In dollar terms, tax receipts increased 0.4%, while outlays increased 3.2%. Revenue fell from 17.2% GDP in 2017 to 16.4% GDP in 2018, below the 50-year average of 17.4%. Outlays fell from 20.7% GDP in 2017 to 20.3% GDP in 2018, equal to the 50-year average. The 2018 deficit was an estimated 3.9% of GDP, up from 3.5% GDP in 2017.
CBO reported that corporate income tax receipts fell by $92 billion or 31% in 2018, falling from 1.5% GDP to 1.0% GDP, approximately half the 50-year average. This was due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This accounted for much of the $113 billion deficit increase in 2018.
During January 2017, just prior to President Trump's inauguration, CBO forecast that the FY 2018 budget deficit would be $487 billion if laws in place at that time remained in place. The $779 billion actual result represents a $292 billion or 60% increase versus that forecast. This difference was mainly due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect in 2018, and other spending legislation.
Fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) ran from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. It was the first fiscal year where Trump's tax cuts were in effect for the entire period. The Treasury Department reported on October 17, 2019 that the budget deficit rose from $778 billion in FY2018 to $984 billion in FY2018, an increase of $205 billion or 26%. In dollar terms, tax receipts increased 4%, while outlays increased 8%. The 2019 deficit was an estimated 4.7% of GDP, up from 3.9% GDP in 2018. This was the highest as a % GDP since 2012 and the fourth consecutive year with an increase.
During January 2017, just prior to President Trump's inauguration, CBO forecast that the FY 2019 budget deficit would be $601 billion if laws in place at that time remained in place. The $984 billion actual result represents a $383 billion or 64% increase versus that forecast. This difference was mainly due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which took effect in 2018, and other spending legislation.
The New York Times reported in October 2019 that: "In fact, tax revenue for the last two years has fallen more than $400 billion short of what the Congressional Budget Office projected in June 2017, six months before the tax law was passed." The Treasury Department expects the deficit to exceed $1 trillion in FY2020. The budget deficit has increased nearly 50% since Trump took office and has increased for the past four years. This is contrary to Trump's promises to eliminate deficits within 8 years.
Ten year forecasts 2018–2028
The CBO estimated the impact of Trump's tax cuts and separate spending legislation over the 2018–2028 period in their annual "Budget & Economic Outlook", released in April 2018:
- CBO forecasts a stronger economy over the 2018–2019 periods than do many outside economists, blunting some of the deficit impact of the tax cuts and spending increases.
- Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP, a key measure of economic growth, is expected to increase 3.3% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019, versus 2.6% in 2017. It is projected to average 1.7% from 2020–2026 and 1.8% in 2027–2028. Over 2017–2027, real GDP is expected to grow 2.0% on average under the April 2018 baseline, versus 1.9% under the June 2017 baseline.
- The non-farm employment level would be about 1.1 million higher on average over the 2018–2028 period, about 0.7% level higher than the June 2017 baseline.
- The budget deficit in fiscal 2018 (which runs from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018, the first year budgeted by President Trump) is forecast to be $804 billion, an increase of $139 billion (21%) from the $665 billion in 2017 and up $242 billion (39%) over the previous baseline forecast (June 2017) of $580 billion for 2018. The June 2017 forecast was essentially the budget trajectory inherited from President Obama; it was prepared prior to the Tax Act and other spending increases under President Trump.
- For the 2018–2027 period, CBO projects the sum of the annual deficits (i.e., debt increase) to be $11.7 trillion, an increase of $1.6 trillion (16%) over the previous baseline (June 2017) forecast of $10.1 trillion.
- The $1.6 trillion debt increase includes three main elements: 1) $1.7 trillion less in revenues due to the tax cuts; 2) $1.0 trillion more in spending; and 3) Partially offsetting incremental revenue of $1.1 trillion due to higher economic growth than previously forecast. The $1.6 trillion figure is approximately $12,700 per family or $4,900 per person total.
- Debt held by the public is expected to rise from 78% of GDP ($16 trillion) at the end of 2018 to 96% GDP ($29 trillion) by 2028. That would be the highest level since the end of World War Two.
- CBO estimated under an alternative scenario (in which policies in place as of April 2018 are maintained beyond scheduled initiation or expiration) that deficits would be considerably higher, rising by $13.7 trillion over the 2018–2027 period, an increase of $3.6 trillion (36%) over the June 2017 baseline forecast. Maintaining current policies for example would include extending the individual Trump tax cuts past their scheduled expiration in 2025, among other changes. The $3.6 trillion figure is approximately $28,500 per household or $11,000 per person total.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) estimated that the legislation passed by the Donald Trump Administration would add significantly to the national debt over the 2018–2028 window, relative to a baseline without that legislation:
- Debt held by the public in 2028 would increase from $27.0 trillion to $29.4 trillion, an increase of $2.4 trillion.
- Debt held by the public as a percent of GDP in 2028 would increase from 93% GDP to 101% GDP.
- Deficits would begin to exceed $1 trillion each year starting with 2019, reaching $1.7 trillion by 2028.
- Deficits would rise from 3.5% GDP in 2017 to 5.3% GDP in 2019 and 5.7% GDP by 2028.
- Under an alternate scenario where the Trump tax cuts for individuals are extended (among other assumptions), the debt would reach $33.0 trillion or 113% GDP in 2028.
Federal corporate income tax receipts
During the six months following enactment of the Trump tax cut, year-on-year corporate profits increased 6.4%, while corporate income tax receipts declined 45.2%. This was the sharpest semiannual decline since records began in 1948, with the sole exception of a 57.0% decline during the Great Recession when corporate profits fell 47.3%.
Federal budget shutdown of 2018-2019
On December 22, 2018, the federal government went into a partial shutdown caused by the expiration of funding for nine Executive departments, although only one such budget - Homeland Security - was actually in contention. Approximately 800,000 federal employees were either furloughed or made to work without pay, and some public services were shut down. The shutdown ended on January 25, 2019, with the total shutdown period extending over a month, the longest in American history. By mid-January 2019, the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated that each week of the shutdown reduced GDP growth by 0.1 percentage points, the equivalent of 1.2 points per quarter. CEA chairman Kevin Hassett later acknowledged that GDP growth could decline to zero in the first quarter of 2019 if the shutdown lasted the entire quarter.
In late September 2017, the Trump administration proposed a tax overhaul. The proposal would reduce the corporate tax rate to 20% (from 35%) and eliminate the estate tax. On individual tax returns it would change the number of tax brackets from seven to three, with tax rates of 12%, 25%, and 35%; apply a 25% tax rate to business income reported on a personal tax return; eliminate the alternative minimum tax; eliminate personal exemptions; double the standard deduction; and eliminate many itemized deductions (specifically retaining the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions). It is unclear from the details offered whether a middle-class couple with children would see tax increase or tax decrease.
In October 2017 the Republican-controlled Senate and House passed a resolution to provide for $1.5 trillion in deficits over ten years to enable enactment of the Trump tax cut. As Reuters reported:
Republicans are traditionally opposed to letting the deficit grow. But in a stark reversal of that stance, the party's budget resolution, previously passed by the Senate, called for adding up to $1.5 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade to pay for the tax cuts.
In December 2017, the Trump Treasury Department released a one-page summary of the nearly 500-page Senate tax bill that suggested the tax cut would more than pay for itself, based on an assumption of higher economic growth than any independent analysis had forecast. Every detailed, independent analysis found that the enacted tax cut would increase budget deficits.
The House passed its version of the Trump tax plan on November 16, 2017, and the Senate passed its version on December 2, 2017. Important differences between the bills were reconciled by a conference committee on December 15, 2017. The President signed the bill into law on December 22, 2017.
Major elements of the new tax law include reducing tax rates for businesses and individuals; a personal tax simplification by increasing the standard deduction and family tax credits, but eliminating personal exemptions and making it less beneficial to itemize deductions; limiting deductions for state and local income taxes (SALT) and property taxes; further limiting the mortgage interest deduction; reducing the alternative minimum tax for individuals and eliminating it for corporations; reducing the number of estates impacted by the estate tax; and repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Just prior to signing the bill, Trump asserted the new tax law might generate GDP growth as high as 6%.
Impact on the economy, deficit and debt
The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress published its macroeconomic analysis of the Senate version of the Act, on November 30, 2017:
- Gross domestic product would be 0.7% higher on average each year during the 2018–2027 period relative to the CBO baseline forecast, a cumulative total of $1,895 billion, due to an increase in labor supply and business investment. This is the level of GDP, not annual growth rate, so the economic impact is relatively minor.
- Employment would be about 0.6% higher each year during the 2018–2027 period than otherwise. The lower marginal tax rate on labor would provide "strong incentives for an increase in labor supply."
- Personal consumption, the largest component of GDP, would increase by 0.6%.
The CBO estimated in April 2018 that implementing the Act would add an estimated $2.289 trillion to the national debt over ten years, or about $1.891 trillion ($15,000 per household) after taking into account macroeconomic feedback effects, in addition to the $9.8 trillion increase forecast under the current policy baseline and existing $20 trillion national debt.
Both the CBO and the JCT economic models assumed positive GDP growth in each year of their 10-year projections, thereby excluding any effect of recessions that typically cause federal tax receipts to decline, resulting in higher deficits.
As Trump celebrated the six-month anniversary of the tax cut on June 29, 2018, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow asserted that the tax cut was generating such growth that "it's throwing off enormous amount[s] of new tax revenues" and "the deficit, which was one of the other criticisms, is coming down—and it's coming down rapidly." Both assertions were incorrect. Since the tax cut was enacted, federal tax receipts increased 1.9% on a year-on-year basis, while they increased 4.0% during the comparable period in 2017. By the same method, the federal budget deficit increased 37.8% while it increased 16.4% during the comparable period in 2017. Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, noted days earlier that the deficit was "skyrocketing," which is consistent with the analysis of every reputable budget analyst. Kudlow later asserted he was referring to future deficits, although every credible budget forecast indicates increasing deficits in coming years, made worse by the Trump tax cut if not offset by major spending cuts. Barring such spending cuts, the CBO projected the tax cut would add $1.27 trillion in deficits over the next decade, even after considering any economic growth the tax cut might generate.
Total federal receipts declined 0.4% during the twelve months following the tax cut, compared to a 3.1% increase during the preceding twelve months – both measured on a year-on-year basis.
Providing a twelve-month summary of the impact on the economy of the tax cut, Minton Beddoes as editor of The Economist compared the short-term impact on the US economy to long-term expectations stating: "Mr. Trump's economic stewardship is less stellar than his supporters claim. Yes, the economy is booming. But that is largely because it is in the midst of a sugar high thanks to a fiscally irresponsible tax cut."
The Trump administration predicted the tax cut would spur corporate capital investment and hiring. One year after enactment of the tax cut, a National Association for Business Economics survey of corporate economists found that 84% reported their firms had not changed their investment or hiring plans due to the tax cut. The International Monetary Fund also found the tax cut had little impact on business investment decisions, while the Penn Wharton Budget Model found that the increasing price of oil "explains the entire increase in the growth rate of investment in 2018." Trump has on several occasions taken credit for business investments that began before he became president.
Analysis conducted by The New York Times in November 2019 found that average business investment was lower after the tax cut than before, and that firms receiving larger tax relief increased investment less than firms receiving smaller tax relief. The analysis also found that since the tax cut firms increased dividends and stock buybacks by nearly three times as much as they increased capital investments.
In a December 2019 opinion piece, former Trump economic advisors Kevin Hassett and Gary Cohn argued that the Trump tax cut had caused wages to rise faster for lower-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, thus delivering on a Trump campaign promise. Other analysts noted wages at the lower end of the income scale had increased at least in part due to numerous states raising their minimum wage in recent years.
Distribution of benefits and costs
The distribution of impact from the final version of the Act by individual income group varies significantly based on the assumptions involved and point in time measured. In general, businesses and upper income groups will mostly benefit regardless, while lower income groups will see the initial benefits fade over time or be adversely impacted. CBO reported on December 21, 2017 that: "Overall, the combined effect of the change in net federal revenue and spending is to decrease deficits (primarily stemming from reductions in spending) allocated to lower-income tax filing units and to increase deficits (primarily stemming from reductions in taxes) allocated to higher-income tax filing units."
- During 2019, incomes groups earning under $20,000 (about 23% of taxpayers) would contribute to deficit reduction (i.e., incur a cost), mainly by receiving fewer subsidies due to the repeal of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Other groups would contribute to deficit increases (i.e., receive a benefit), mainly due to tax cuts.
- During 2021, 2023, and 2025, income groups earning under $40,000 (about 43% of taxpayers) would contribute to deficit reduction, while income groups above $40,000 would contribute to deficit increases.
- During 2027, income groups earning under $75,000 (about 76% of taxpayers) would contribute to deficit reduction, while income groups above $75,000 would contribute to deficit increases.
The Joint Committee on Taxation reported in March 2019 that: "[G]enerally as income increases the average tax rate reduction increases." For example, in 2019 the average tax rate reduction for the group earning $50,000-$75,000 would be 1.3%, while the reduction for the group earning $1,000,000+ would be 2.3%.
The Tax Policy Center (TPC) reported its distributional estimates for the Act on December 18, 2017. This analysis excludes the impact from repealing the ACA individual mandate, which would apply significant costs primarily to income groups below $40,000. It also assumes the Act is deficit financed and thus excludes the impact of any spending cuts used to finance the Act, which also would fall disproportionally on lower income families as a percentage of their income.
- Compared to current law, 5% of taxpayers would pay more in 2018, 9% in 2025, and 53% in 2027.
- The top 1% of taxpayers (income over $732,800) would receive 8% of the benefit in 2018, 25% in 2025, and 83% in 2027.
- The top 5% (income over $307,900) would receive 43% of the benefit in 2018, 47% in 2025, and 99% in 2027.
- The top 20% (income over $149,400) would receive 65% of the benefit in 2018, 66% in 2025 and all of the benefit in 2027.
- The bottom 80% (income under $149,400) would receive 35% of the benefit in 2018, 34% in 2025 and none of the benefit in 2027, with some groups incurring costs.
- The third quintile (taxpayers in the 40th to 60th percentile with income between $48,600 and $86,100, a proxy for the "middle class") would receive 11% of the benefit in 2018 and 2025, but would incur a net cost in 2027.
The TPC also estimated the amount of the tax cut each group would receive, measured in 2017 dollars:
- Taxpayers in the second quintile (incomes between $25,000 and $48,600, the 20th to 40th percentile) would receive a tax cut averaging $380 in 2018 and $390 in 2025, but a tax increase averaging $40 in 2027.
- Taxpayers in the third quintile (incomes between $48,600 and $86,100, the 40th to 60th percentile) would receive a tax cut averaging $930 in 2018, $910 in 2025, but a tax increase of $20 in 2027.
- Taxpayers in the fourth quintile (incomes between $86,100 and $149,400, the 60th to 80th percentile) would receive a tax cut averaging $1,810 in 2018, $1,680 in 2025, and $30 in 2027.
- Taxpayers in the top 1% (income over $732,800) would receive a tax cut of $51,140 in 2018, $61,090 in 2025, and $20,660 in 2027.
If the tax cuts are paid for
The scoring by the organizations above assumes the tax cuts are deficit-financed, meaning that over ten years the deficit rises by $1.4 trillion relative to the current law baseline; or $1.0 trillion after economic feedback effects. However, if one assumes the tax cuts are paid for by spending cuts, the distribution is much more unfavorable to lower- and middle-income persons, as most government spending is directed to them; the higher income taxpayers tend to get tax breaks, not direct payments. According to the Tax Policy Center, if the Senate bill were financed by a $1,210 per household cut in government spending per year (a more likely scenario than focusing cuts proportionally by income or income taxes paid), then during 2019:
- The bottom 72% would be worse off than current law, meaning benefits from tax cuts would be more than offset by reduced spending on their behalf.
- The bottom 60% of taxpayers would have lower after-tax income, paying a higher average federal tax rate.
- The benefits to the 60th to 80th percentiles would be minimal, a $350 net benefit on average or 0.3% lower effective tax rate.
- Significant tax benefits would only accrue to the top 20% of taxpayers.
Republican politicians such as Paul Ryan have advocated for spending cuts to help finance the tax cuts, while the President Trump's 2018 budget includes $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over ten years to Medicaid, Affordable Care Act subsidies, food stamps, Social Security disability insurance, Supplemental security income, and cash welfare (TANF).
A FiveThirtyEight average of November 2017 surveys showed that 32% of voters approved of the legislation while 46% opposed it. This made the 2017 tax plan less popular than any tax proposal since 1981, including the tax increases of 1990 and 1993. Trump has claimed the tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations would be "paid for by growth", although 37 economists polled by the University of Chicago unanimously rejected the claim. The Washington Post's fact-checker has found that Trump's claims that his economic proposal and tax plan would not benefit wealthy persons like himself are provably false. The elimination of the estate tax (which only applies to inherited wealth greater than $11 million for a married couple) benefits only the heirs of the very rich (such as Trump's children), and there is a reduced tax rate for people who report business income on their individual returns (as Trump does). If Trump's tax plan had been in place in 2005 (the one recent year in which his tax returns were leaked), he would have saved $31 million in taxes from the alternative minimum tax cut alone. If the most recent estimate of the value of Trump's assets is correct, the repeal of the estate tax could save his family about $1.1 billion.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argued that the corporate income tax cut will benefit workers the most; however, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office estimate that owners of capital benefit vastly more than workers.
Economist Paul Krugman summarized what he called ten lies modern Republicans and conservatives tell about their tax plans, many of which have been deployed in this case: "But the selling of tax cuts under Trump has taken things to a whole new level, both in terms of the brazenness of the lies and their sheer number." These range from "America is the most highly taxed country in the world" (the OECD reported the U.S. is in fact one of the lowest-taxed in the OECD) to "Cutting [corporate] profits taxes really benefits workers" (corporate tax cuts mainly benefit wealthy stockholders) to "Tax cuts won't increase the deficit" (they significantly increase the deficit). Krugman referred to a Tax Policy Center estimate that by 2027, the majority of the tax cut would go to the top 1%; but only 12% to the middle class.
Economist and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers referred to the analysis provided by the Trump administration of its tax proposal as "... some combination of dishonest, incompetent, and absurd." Summers continued that "... there is no peer-reviewed support for [the Administration's] central claim that cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent would raise wages by $4,000 per worker. The claim is absurd on its face."
On the day Trump signed the tax bill, polls showed that 30% of Americans approved of the new law. While its popularity has increased somewhat since, through August 2018 a plurality of Americans still dislike the law.
Despite every independent economic analysis concluding that the tax cut would increase deficits, a June 2018 survey found that 22% of Republicans agreed with that conclusion, while nearly 70% of Democrats agreed.
As a candidate in 2016, Trump promised to create 25 million new jobs over the next decade. However, job creation has been somewhat slower under President Trump relative to the end of the Obama Administration.
- During Trump's first 35 months in office (through December 2019), 6.2 million jobs were created, versus 8.0 million in the last 35 months of the Obama administration. This is an average of 177,000 jobs per month created under Trump versus 227,000 under Obama during those periods.
- Discussing the economy on July 27, 2018, Trump stated, "We have added 3.7 million new jobs since the election, a number that is unthinkable if you go back to the campaign. Nobody would have said it." While this figure was accurate for the 19 months following the election, during the 19 months prior to the election, 3.9 million jobs were created.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the number of jobs added or lost by industry group in 2017, some of which included: Professional and business services added 527,000 jobs (+2.6%), Education and Health Services added 438,000 (+1.9%), Construction added 210,000 (+3.1%), Manufacturing added 196,000 (+1.6%) and Mining and Logging added 59,000 (+8.8%). The additions in Mining and Logging were primarily in "support activities for mining" while coal mining jobs, a focus during the Trump campaign, were essentially unchanged.
An August 2018 analysis by the Associated Press found that during the year ended May, 58.5% of job creation was in counties that Trump did not carry in the 2016 election, similar to the results during the months prior to Trump's presidency. Over 35% of counties Trump carried showed job losses, compared to 19.2% of counties carried by Clinton.
The Trump administration seeks to encourage people with disabilities to work in order to save money for the government and to meet the demands of a growing economy with tightening labor markets. In 2019, U.S. unemployment reached the lowest point in 50 years. Companies have had trouble finding employees and many are willing to hire those with disabilities. The number of people who quit disability rolls and successfully found a job increased each year from 2014 through 2017.
Full-time and part-time employment levels
The BLS publishes the number of full-time (FT) and part-time (PT) employed. The data for the January 2015 to June 2019 period indicates:
- Comparing 2015-2016 (the last two years of the Obama Administration) with 2017-2018 (the first two years of the Trump Administration), Trump had better full time employment gains, 5.6 million vs. 4.2 million. However, full time gains were only 235,000 year-to-date June 2019.
- Part-time employment gains were negative in 3 of the past 4 years and year-to-date through June 2019. Obama had a net gain of 422,000 in 2015-2016 vs. Trump's net loss in 2017-2018 of 901,000.
- FT and PT employment gains taken together were only 48,000 in 2019. Gains for Obama in 2015-2016 and Trump in 2017-2018 were roughly equal at 4.6 million.
- Comparing Obama's last 29 months with Trump's first 29 months through June 2019, Obama added more to FT employment (5.9 million vs. 5.6 million) and had smaller losses in PT employment (429,000 vs. 578,000).
Other labor market variables
While job creation (non-farm payrolls) in 2017 was below 2013–2016 levels, other labor market variables continued to improve as the economy approached full employment:
- The unemployment rate fell from 4.8% in January 2017 to 4.1% in December 2017, continuing the trend that began in 2009.
- The labor force participation rate among prime-aged workers (aged 25–54) rose from 81.4% in December 2016 to 81.9% in December 2017, marking the fourth consecutive year of increase.
- The number of persons working part-time for economic reasons (i.e., would prefer to work full-time) declined from 5.8 million in January 2017 to 5.0 million in January 2018, continuing a downward trend that began in 2010.
The BLS reported a US unemployment rate of 3.8 percent in May 2018, the lowest it has been since April 2000. During May 2018, black American and Asian American unemployment hit its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1972 and 2003, respectively.
Trump ran on a campaign to improve wages for the working class, and as president he falsely asserted on several occasions that wages were rising for the first time in as many as 22 years. However, the average real (inflation-adjusted) hourly wage for private sector production and nonsupervisory workers (loosely, "working-class" workers) began steadily rising in November 2012, and that wage growth slowed under Trump compared to prior years, mainly due to increases in energy prices. Trump and Republicans have asserted that the corporate tax cut in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would cause employers to pass their tax savings on to workers in the form of wage increases, while critics predicted companies would spend most of the savings on stock repurchases and dividends to shareholders. Early evidence appeared to confirm the latter.
For example, average hourly earnings (for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls) rose from $26.26 in June 2017 to $26.98 in June 2018, an increase of $0.72 or 2.74%. However, inflation (CPI-U, for all items) rose 2.8% for the 12 months ending May 2018, indicating that workers' real (inflation-adjusted) hourly earnings were essentially unchanged over that mid-2017 to mid-2018 period. Real wage growth turned negative in June 2018, as the inflation rate was higher than nominal wage growth, continuing into July.
On September 5, 2018, Trump's top economist Kevin Hassett released new analysis indicating that real wage growth under Trump was higher than previously reported. However, the new analysis also showed that real wage growth under Trump was lower than in 2015 and 2016.
A September 2018 analysis by Reuters found that wage growth over the year ended March 2018 substantially lagged the national average in the 220 counties that flipped from voting for Obama in 2012 to voting for Trump in 2016.
Eighteen states increased their minimum wage effective January 1, 2018—including California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Ohio—which the Economic Policy Institute estimated would provide $5 billion in additional wages to 4.5 million workers. The average increase over the 18 states was 4.4%.
During his February 2019 State of the Union Address, Trump asserted, "Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for, faster than anyone else." Nominal wage growth for production and nonsupervisory workers averaged 3.0% during 2018, the highest rate since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, the 2018 average growth rate for such workers was 0.5%, the highest rate since 2016, when real wages rose 1.2%. However, real wage growth was lower during both of Trump's first two years in office than during the preceding four years
Average hourly earnings increased from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018 in nominal terms, but since inflation was higher in the latter period, real earnings growth was lower. For example, average hourly earnings growth rates for production and non-supervisory workers (a proxy for middle-class workers) increased in nominal terms from 2.3% for the 2015-2016 period, to 2.6% for the 2017-2018 period. However, in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, the growth rate was faster at 1.6% in 2015-2016 versus the 0.3% in 2017-2018, as inflation was higher in the latter period. For all employees, which includes higher wage managers, the pattern is similar, with faster nominal growth in 2017-2018 at 2.7% versus 2015-2016 at 2.4%, but slower real growth in 2017-2018 at 0.4% vs. 1.7% in 2015-2016.
Prior to the election, Trump proposed "Seven actions to protect American workers" in his first 100 days through his Contract with the American Voter. As of April 2017 (after 100 days) CNN reported that he had fulfilled three of seven. Two others were fulfilled thereafter:
- Renegotiate NAFTA: Signed the USMCA trade agreement with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. Fulfilled on November 30, 2018.
- Withdraw from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): Fulfilled by April 2017.
- Label China a currency manipulator: Fulfilled by August 2019.
- Direct study to identify foreign trading abuses: Fulfilled by April 2017 (study begun).
- Lift restrictions on $50 trillion worth of energy reserves: Unfulfilled as of April 2017. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will open additional land for development. In early January 2017, the Trump Administration also reversed an Obama ban on offshore drilling in a significant portion of U.S. coastal waters.
- Lift restrictions on infrastructure projects (Keystone pipeline): Fulfilled by April 2017.
- Cancel payments to U.N. for climate change programs: Unfulfilled as of April 2017. While the overall U.N. budget was cut for 2018–2019, this is routine and it was unclear how much the U.S. contribution would be reduced as of December 2017, despite confusing press releases from the Trump Administration.
As part of the Contract with the American Voter, Trump also pledged to impose tariffs to discourage companies from laying off workers or relocating to other countries, through an "End the Offshoring Act". This was also unfulfilled as of December 2017.
The BEA reported that real gross domestic product, a measure of both production and income, grew by 2.9% in 2018 and 2.3% in 2017, vs. 1.5% in 2016 and 2.9% in 2015. Real GDP per capita increased in 2018 for the ninth consecutive year, its fifth consecutive record high.
CBO estimates real potential GDP, a measure of what the U.S. economy can sustainably produce at full employment. CBO forecast in April 2018 that from 2018-2027, real potential GDP growth would average 1.8%. Amounts above this threshold for short periods may be driven by economic stimulus (debt additions) such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or unusual events such as activity to avoid tariffs. The June 2019 Federal Reserve median forecast was for full year real GDP growth of 2.1% in 2019, 2.0% in 2020, and 1.8% in 2021.
Real GDP growth was 2.1% in Q3 2019, 2.0% in Q2 2019, and 3.1% in Q1 2019. Regarding Q2 performance, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that: "The increase in real GDP in the second quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), federal government spending, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased..."
Real GDP growth was 2.6% in Q4 2018 (later revised to 1.1%), 3.5% in Q3 2018 (later revised to 2.9%), 4.1% in Q2 2018 (later revised to 3.5%) and 2.3% in Q1 2018 (later revised to 2.5%). The 4.1% level was the highest since the 4.9% level in Q3 2014. There were four quarters with 4.1% or higher growth during the Obama administration (Q4 2009, Q4 2011, Q2 2014 and Q3 2014).
The initial 4.1% figure was boosted by net exports, which contributed 1.1 percentage points to the total due to higher exports to avoid retaliatory tariffs. Critics doubted the sustainability of this export boost. This addition from net exports was much higher than the average 0.5 percentage point reduction in real GDP growth from net exports for the Q1 2014 to Q1 2018 periods. Hypothetically, if the 0.5 average reduction due to net exports from recent periods were applied to Q2 2018 rather than the unusual 1.1 positive contribution, real GDP would have grown about 2.6%. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that of the 4.1% growth, legislation (tax cuts and additional spending) contributed 0.8% and Chinese pre-purchases of soybeans in anticipation of tariffs contributed 0.6%, meaning the "base" growth rate was 2.7%.
CBO also estimated that GDP cumulatively would be 0.3% higher by the end of 2018 due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. A quarterly growth rate to generate a 0.3% higher cumulative total is about 0.07% per quarter, indicating the tax cuts contributed less than 0.1 percentage points to the real GDP growth rate in Q1 and Q2 2018.
From 2009 through 2016, GDP growth met or exceeded 3% in twelve quarters—including 5.5% and 5.0% in consecutive quarters of 2014—yet it did not sustain 3% or more for any full calendar year (nor did it in 2017 and 2018).
During August 2019, concerns about a possible future U.S. recession, caused in part by global uncertainty due to Trump's trade policies, resulted in Trump's demands that the Federal Reserve lower interest rates. Trump also began publicly considering payroll and capital gains tax cuts, as potential stimulus measures.
National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow asserted on June 29, 2018, "they've been saying that all along, OK? We could never get to 3% growth ... It couldn't be done, they say. It's being done." Trump made a similar remark the previous day. However, analysts have actually said that 3% sustained growth was unlikely, rather than periodic quarters of growth of 3% or more. The final figure for first quarter 2018 GDP growth was released the day before Kudlow spoke—coming in at 2.0% (before later revision to 2.2%).
Trump falsely claimed on July 13, 2018, that "GDP since I've taken over has doubled and tripled". Real GDP had grown a cumulative total of 3.1% from Q4 2016 through Q1 2018. When first quarter 2019 GDP growth reached 3.2%, Trump falsely asserted it was “a number that they haven’t hit in 14 years.”
Although GDP growth was 2.9% for calendar 2018, the White House touted 3.1% GDP growth from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018 to assert the 3% target had been reached. However, that figure was later revised to 2.5%.
Infrastructure, inflation, and energy
On January 24, 2017, President Trump signed presidential memoranda to revive both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The memorandum is designed to expedite the environmental review process.
On February 12, 2018, President Trump released his $1.5 trillion federal infrastructure plan during a meeting with several governors and mayors at The White House. Congress showed little enthusiasm for the plan, with The Hill reporting, "President Trump's infrastructure plan appears to have crashed and burned in Congress."
Trends in inflation rates over the 2016-2018 period vary depending on whether volatile food and energy prices are included in the measure:
- Inflation measured by the consumer price index for all items rose from 1.3% in 2016 to 2.1% in 2017 and 2.5% year-to-date (YTD) June 2018. This was mainly driven by higher energy prices.
- Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was relatively flat, at 2.2% in 2016, 1.8% in 2017, and 2.1% YTD June 2018.
In May 2018 Trump ordered the Department of Energy to conduct unprecedented intervention in energy markets to protect the coal and nuclear industries from competitive market pressures. Robert Powelson, whom Trump appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, testified to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 12, 2018 that "unprecedented steps by the federal government – through the President's recent directive to the Department of Energy to subsidize certain resources – threaten to collapse the wholesale competitive markets that have long been a cornerstone of FERC policy. This intervention could potentially "blow up" the markets and result in significant rate increases without any corresponding reliability, resilience, or cybersecurity benefits."
The Trump administration initiated regulatory relief for the coal mining industry, particularly by moving to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP). A 2019 projection by the Energy Information Administration estimated that coal production without CPP would decline over coming decades at a faster rate than indicated in the agency's 2017 projection, which had assumed the CPP was in effect.
President Trump's trade policy has consisted of actions such as withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the imposition of tariffs on a variety of countries. Approximately 40 economists surveyed by the University of Chicago either strongly agreed or agreed that U.S. households bear the cost of tariffs; none disagreed. Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro has countered that China's devaluation of its currency from ~10 yuan/dollar to 7 yuan/dollar has all but offset the China-targeted portion of the tariffs, however, putting the burden on Chinese exporters and sending the delta to the U.S. Treasury. Hundreds of companies have explained that the tariffs will make their costs rise, which will be passed to consumers. As of June 2019, Trump had signed consequential revisions to NAFTA known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, which were pending ratification. While reducing the trade deficit (i.e., imports greater than exports) is one of his stated goals, it increased in 2017 and 2018. If Trump's tariffs are fully implemented as proposed as of June 2019, they would raise prices sufficiently to offset most or all of his tax cuts for lower- and middle-class households, potentially slowing the economy. Analysis by the Tax Foundation found that the benefits of the Trump tax cut would be completely eliminated for all taxpayers through the 90th percentile in earnings. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY estimated that tariffs implemented as of May 2019 cost the average family about $415 per year, while implementing the remaining threatened tariffs would bring the total to $830 per year.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported its estimate of the U.S. economic impact from Trump's trade policies in August 2019. By 2020, tariffs would reduce the level of real U.S. GDP by about 0.3%, reduce real consumption by 0.3%, reduce real private investment by 1.3%, and reduce real household income by $580 (about 1%). Real U.S. exports would be 1.7% lower and real imports would be 2.6% lower. CBO explained tariffs reduce U.S. economic activity in three ways: 1) Consumer and capital goods become more expensive; 2) Business uncertainty increases, thereby reducing or slowing investment; and 3) Other countries impose retaliatory tariffs, making U.S. exports more expensive and thus reducing them. CBO estimated the U.S. had imposed tariffs on 11% of imports by January 2018. As of July 25, 2019, retaliatory tariffs had been imposed on 7% of all U.S. goods exports. CBO expects the negative consequences will remain but have a smaller impact in 2029, as businesses adjust their supply chains (i.e., source from countries not affected by tariffs).
In a November 10, 2015 Republican debate, Trump stated the bi-partisan, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was "a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone." Politifact rated this assertion "Pants On Fire," while the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, "It wasn't obvious that [Trump] has any idea what's in [TPP]". Trump stated similar rhetoric about TPP on June 26, 2016, which the Washington Post factchecker found to be incorrect.
President Trump abandoned TPP during his first week in office through an executive order. This decision was a component of his "America First" strategy and signaled a change from long-term Republican orthodoxy, that expanding global trade was good for America and the world. The TPP was to create complex trade rules between 12 countries, to create an economic competitor to a rising China. The move was criticized as an opportunity for China to expand its influence in Asia. However, on April 13, 2018, Trump said the United States could rejoin the TPP.
TPP, renegotiated and renamed as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after the U.S. withdrawal, became effective on December 30, 2018. Investment bank HSBC noted that 90% of tariffs on goods were immediately eliminated by the six countries that had already ratified the agreement. The other five countries were expected to ratify the agreement within months. U.S. Wheat Associates President Vince Peterson had said earlier in December that American wheat exporters could face an "imminent collapse" in their 53% market share in Japan. Peterson added, "Our competitors in Australia and Canada will now benefit from those [CPTPP] provisions, as US farmers watch helplessly." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association stated that exports of beef to Japan, America's largest export market, would be at a serious disadvantage to Australian exporters as their tariffs on exports to Japan would be cut by 27.5% during the first year of CPTPP.
The Trump administration later sought a unilateral trade agreement with Japan that would increase American agricultural exports, but in April 2019 Japan rejected greater access to its markets.
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
Upon taking office, Trump halted negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which had been under way since 2013 during the Obama administration. In May 2018, Trump initiated a trade conflict with the EU by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, for which the EU retaliated in June with tariffs of their own, with Trump threatening to escalate the conflict with additional tariffs. In July 2018, Trump and the EU declared a truce of sorts, announcing they would enter into negotiations for an agreement similar to the TTIP. In a Rose Garden appearance with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Trump touted the negotiations as "a new phase in the relationship between the United States and the European Union."
Value of the dollar
In January 2018, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated he welcomed a weaker dollar to encourage American exports. The following day, Trump stated "The dollar is going to get stronger and stronger and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar." After a three-month dollar rally, on July 20, 2018 Trump tweeted "... the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day - taking away our big competitive edge."
The trade weighted dollar index measures the value of the dollar vs. several major foreign currencies. After trending generally upward since 2011 and reaching a near-record high in December 2016, the value of the dollar has since generally trended downward through April 2018, down 6.6% since Trump took office.
The overall trade deficit increased in both of Trump's first two years in office, up 10% in 2017 and 13% in 2018, compared to single-digit increases during each of the preceding three years. The deficit in goods, Trump's preferred trade balance measure, increased 8% in 2017 and 10% in 2018, reaching a record high of $891 billion in 2018. The goods deficit with China reached a record high for the second consecutive year in 2018, up 12% from 2017. The overall deficits were mitigated somewhat by surpluses in services, continuing a trend of many years.
Trump's tax plan was criticized as likely increasing the trade deficit (i.e., imports greater than exports). In one sense, a trade deficit is a subtraction from GDP, so in theory a larger trade deficit offsets economic growth and reduces the number of jobs. However, increasing the budget deficit (as the tax bill does per CBO and JCT estimates) means increasing the trade deficit, other things equal, under the sectoral balance framework. One inconsistent argument made by the Administration for the tax cuts is that they would bring in a sizable amount of foreign capital (increasing the capital surplus and its mathematical offset, the trade deficit), which would be invested by corporations and drive increases in GDP. However, this inflow of capital would drive up the price of the dollar, hurting exports and thus raising the trade deficit and thus reducing GDP.
Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis explained that a trade deficit is not necessarily bad for an economy. On the positive side, a trade deficit can mean: 1) Foreigners are net investors in your country's economy and production capacity; and 2) The economy is doing sufficiently well such that your citizens are importing more from abroad than they are exporting because local demand cannot meet supply. On the negative side, if the inflow of foreign capital is used instead to bid up housing and financial asset prices (as was the case during the United States housing bubble that contributed to the Great Recession) then a trade deficit can be detrimental. In other words, it depends on how the inflow of foreign capital is used.
As he began his tariff actions, Trump asserted in March 2018 that "trade wars are good, and easy to win," but after the trade war with China persisted for over a year with no resolution in sight, in August 2019 he told a rally audience, "I never said China was going to be easy."
Steel and aluminum
On March 1, 2018, Trump announced plans to impose import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum during March 2018, although implementation dates and details were yet to be announced. His authority to impose these tariffs derived from a Commerce Department investigation that found imported metal threatened national security by "degrading the American industrial base." These tariffs would impact China, but would fall most heavily upon steel producing allies such as Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico and South Korea, and aluminum producers Canada, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. In response, Canada, the European Union and other exporters indicated they might be forced to retaliate in response. Peter Navarro, Trump's director of the National Trade Council, stated on March 2, "I don't believe any country is going to retaliate for the simple reason that we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world." Trump explained via Twitter than when the U.S. has a trade deficit with another country, "trade wars are good, and easy to win". Stocks of American automakers, which use these metals to construct its cars, went down, as theoretically the price of these inputs post-tariff would rise. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 500 points, about 2%, in response to the announcement.
Large steel consumers, such as U.S. car manufacturers, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors saw even larger drops in share prices. On April 30, 2018, Trump announced that the steel and aluminum tariffs on American allies would be deferred. One month later, the Administration implemented the tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The EU, Canada and Mexico immediately announced they would retaliate. Mexico retaliated on June 5, 2018 with tariffs ranging between 15% and 25% on $3 billion in American goods. Canada also retaliated on June 29, 2018 by imposing tariffs ranging from 10% to 25% on $12.6 billion in American goods, effective July 1. Through May 2018, American steel prices increased about 40% since the Trump administration announced its tariff plans the preceding March, while prices in Europe and China remained relatively stable. By June 2018, the price for hot-rolled band, one of the most common types of steel, was 52% higher in America than in Western Europe and 73% higher than in China.
The New York Times reported on August 5, 2018 that two major American steel companies with close ties to senior Trump administration officials had succeeded in blocking requests from 1,600 American manufacturing companies for waivers of the steel tariffs, compelling them to purchase more expensive American steel. Nucor had financed a documentary made by Peter Navarro, Trump's Director of the White House National Trade Council, and US Steel had previously been represented in legal matters by Trump's trade representative Robert Lighthizer and his deputy Jeffrey Gerrish. American steel prices at the time were about 60% higher than in the rest of the world, according to Whirlpool Corporation CEO Marc Bitzer.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a farm state, wrote an April 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Trump’s Tariffs End or His Trade Deal Dies," stating "Congress won’t approve USMCA while constituents pay the price for Mexican and Canadian retaliation." A congressional aide involved in the USMCA negotiations said in May 2019 that the White House was growing increasingly concerned by the negative effects of the tariffs on farmers, and after weeks of traveling in Midwestern states to promote USMCA, vice president Mike Pence relayed the concerns of manufacturers and farmers to Trump, telling him, “We’ve got to get moving on this.” Trump announced on May 17 that the steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada would be lifted.
On March 22, 2018 Trump announced trade actions regarding China, including tariffs in the $50 billion range, initiation of a WTO dispute and investment restrictions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 700 points that day, nearly 3%, on concerns of a trade war. Reuters reported days later that the tariffs might not be actually imposed until June 2018. In response to these pending tariffs, China announced its intent to impose 25% tariffs against certain American products, notably on the $14 billion in soybeans it buys from America each year. Media reports indicated that China had already begun to cancel soybean orders from America and buying them from other countries. Chinese orders for pork and corn had also been canceled. Soybean exporters, located primarily in states Trump won in 2016, expressed concerns about the situation as soybean prices fell to the lowest level since the Great Recession in 2009. The Trump administration reportedly planned to provide a federal relief package to farmers totaling billions of dollars. On May 29, 2018 the Trump administration announced it would proceed to implement the proposed tariffs within a month, although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was scheduled to begin another round of negotiations in Beijing within days. The Trump administration announced on June 15, 2018 that the tariffs would begin July 6, and China immediately announced it would retaliate and withdraw any proposals it had made in previous negotiations, which had included importing an additional $200 billion in American exports by 2020—including $70 billion in agricultural and energy products.
The Washington Post reported on June 15 that China's threatened retaliatory tariffs were "targeted with laserlike precision at farmers, ranchers and certain manufacturing workers, as well as at the local economies of rural and small-town America," while The Wall Street Journal published similar findings on July 6.
The New York Times reported on June 16, 2018 that fear of an impending trade war was disrupting global commerce, noting that "shipments are slowing at ports and airfreight terminals around the world. Prices for crucial raw materials are rising. At factories from Germany to Mexico, orders are being cut and investments delayed. American farmers are losing sales as trading partners hit back with duties of their own." On June 18, 2018 Trump instructed his trade representative to identify an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods that would be hit with 10% tariffs if China did not back down from their retaliation threat, and threatened another $200 billion in tariffs if China retaliated to the new tariffs Trump announced that day. Trump's proposed tariffs, if fully implemented, would cover nearly all of the $505 billion in products the United States imports from China. Unlike previously-announced tariffs which were targeted almost entirely at intermediate goods purchased by businesses (which might absorb the new costs rather than pass them on to consumers) the newly-announced tariffs would directly target consumer goods. The Trump administration implemented $34 billion in tariffs against China on July 6, which China immediately matched. On July 10, 2018 the Trump administration announced a list of $200 billion in Chinese products upon which tariffs would be imposed, subject to a two-month period for public comment and hearings. Those tariffs were implemented on September 17, with China responding the next day with $60 billion in tariffs on 5.207 American goods, including farm goods, machinery and chemicals.
The European Union announced on June 21, 2018 that it would retaliate with tariffs targeted at Trump's political base, effective midnight that night. India and Turkey also announced retaliatory tariffs that day.
Trump responded to the EU's retaliation on June 22, 2018, threatening a 20% tariff on European cars. American automakers and unions were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the proposal. with General Motors stating the tariffs could lead to "less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages" for its employees and vehicle price increases of thousands of dollars. The EU warned on June 29, 2018 that it would respond to Trump's tariffs on cars with tariffs on as much as $294 billion in American exports—19% of the total exports to the EU in 2017.
During talks on June 25, 2018, trade representatives of China and the EU agreed they are united in opposition to Trump's tariffs, with China's Vice Premier Liu He saying "both sides believe that we must resolutely oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism and prevent such behavior from causing volatility and recession in the global economy." 
China announced on June 28, 2018 that effective July 1 it was reducing or eliminating tariffs on 8,549 products imported from five Asian nations, including chemicals, agricultural products, medical products, soybeans, clothing and steel & aluminum products. China's move would help to reduce the costs of such imports should a trade dispute with the United States escalate. Edward Alden, a trade scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, remarked "There's no question that China is preparing for a trade war," adding "These tariff cuts will also help to strengthen China's relations with its Asian neighbors, even as the United States has turned its back on the region economically, by walking away from the TPP." Chinese customs data showed that the country's imports of American soybeans fell to zero in November 2018, down from 4.7 million metric tons a year earlier, as China increased soybean imports from Brazil by 80% over the year.
On July 1, 2018, as Trump continued threatening to impose tariffs on European cars, China cut its tariffs on imported cars from 25% to 15%. Although most foreign cars sold in China are assembled there, the tariff cut would primarily benefit German automakers that still export many cars to China, while Chinese imports of General Motors and Ford vehicles are relatively insignificant. However, China was also preparing to impose a 25% tariff on cars imported from America on July 6. Because many of the sport-utility vehicles BMW and Mercedes export to China are made in American plants, the new tariff might induce those automakers to shift some production to non-American facilities, costing American jobs. The United States Chamber of Commerce estimated that South Carolina—where BMW operates its largest plant in the world—exports $1.9 billion worth of cars to China annually, as well as another $1.1 billion in other exports to China that might be subject to tariffs. The BMW plant employs approximately 10,000 workers and has 235 American suppliers. The Chamber also found that Tennessee exports totaling $1.4 billion could be at risk, including $202 million in auto exports. Trump handily won both states in the 2016 election.
High-level American and Chinese representatives, including presidents Trump and Xi, met to discuss trade issues at the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit in late 2018. After their meeting, Trump asserted he had made an "incredible deal" with China, which included a 90-day deadline for progress in trade talks, a reduction in Chinese tariffs on American cars and a commitment from China to buy large amounts of American agricultural products. China confirmed only the 90-day timetable. Administration officials Larry Kudlow and Steven Mnuchin later struggled to explain what was agreed to in the talks, and one top White House adviser stated, "Nobody knows what the deal is," although Trump aides privately stated that China had not agreed to relax car tariffs. The Washington Post reported that Chinese officials were "puzzled and irritated by the administration's shaky handling of the meeting's aftermath," citing a former American government official who had spoken with the Chinese, who added "You don't do this with the Chinese. You don't triumphantly proclaim all their concessions in public. It's just madness." Investment bank JPMorgan wrote in a note to traders, "It doesn't seem like anything was actually agreed to at the dinner and White House officials are contorting themselves into pretzels to reconcile Trump's tweets (which seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated) with reality." The Dow jumped 288 points the day after Trump announced the deal with China, but plunged 799 points the next day as doubts surfaced about it. Trump agreed during the summit to suspend the threatened January 1, 2019 tariff increase on $200 billion in Chinese goods.
Trump has asserted multiple times that China and other countries pay the tariffs he has imposed, generating new revenues for the American government. Actually, American importers pay the tariffs.
China and the United States entered into negotiations in summer 2018 to seek a comprehensive solution to their trade conflict, but the talks ended without agreement on May 10, 2019, and that day Trump carried out his earlier threat to impose additional tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods. China retaliated three days later, announcing new tariffs on $60 billion of American exports. Additional tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods were being considered, pending a USTR hearing and a public comment period in June 2019. Some economists estimated that the cumulative effect of the continuing trade conflict could raise costs for the average American household by several hundreds of dollars per year. During the June 2019 G20 Osaka summit, China and America agreed to resume stalled trade talks, with Trump announcing he would suspend the additional $300 billion in tariffs, and asserting China had agreed to buy a "tremendous amount" of American farm products, although there were no specifics or confirmation of this by China. Trump announced on August 1 that he would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports beginning September 1; four days later the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced that China was halting imports of all American agricultural goods. Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called the move "a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by." Farm Bureau data showed that agriculture exports to China fell from $19.5 billion in 2017 to $9.1 billion in 2018, a 53% decline. The figure was $21.4 billion in 2016.
June 2019 analysis conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that China imposed the same 8% average tariffs on all countries in January 2018, but by June 2019 average tariffs on American exports had increased to 20.7% while those on other countries had declined to 6.7%
Three weeks after Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote an April 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Trump’s Tariffs End or His Trade Deal Dies," stating "Congress won’t approve USMCA while constituents pay the price for Mexican and Canadian retaliation," Trump lifted steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada. Two weeks later, Trump unexpectedly announced that he would impose a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico on June 10, increasing to 10% on July 1, and by another 5% each month for three months, “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.” Hours later, Grassley commented, “This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent. Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country." That same day, the Trump administration formally initiated the process to seek congressional approval of USMCA. Trump's top trade advisor, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, opposed the new Mexican tariffs on concerns it would jeopardize passage of USMCA. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner also opposed the action. Grassley, whose committee is instrumental in passing USMCA, was not informed in advance of Trump’s surprise announcement. An array of lawmakers and business groups expressed consternation about the proposed tariffs. With 2018 imports of Mexican goods totaling $346.5 billion, a 5% tariff constitutes a tax increase of over $17 billion.
On June 7, Trump announced the tariffs would be "indefinitely suspended" after Mexico agreed to take actions, including deploying its National Guard throughout the country and along its southern border. The New York Times reported the following day that Mexico had actually agreed to most of the actions months earlier. Also that day, Trump tweeted, "MEXICO HAS AGREED TO IMMEDIATELY BEGIN BUYING LARGE QUANTITIES OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCT FROM OUR GREAT PATRIOT FARMERS!," although the communique between the countries did not mention any such deal and Mexican officials were not aware of such discussions, while American officials declined comment.
- On April 25, 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to impose duties of up to 24% on most Canadian lumber, charging that lumber companies are subsidized by the government. The duties are on the five firms: West Fraser Mills, Tolko Marketing and Sales, J. D. Irving, Canfor Corporation, and Resolute FP Canada. West Fraser Mills will pay the highest duty of 24%. The preliminary determination directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection to require cash deposits for the duties on all new imports as well as softwood products imported over the past 90 days. To remain in effect, however, the duties need to be finalized by Commerce and then confirmed by the U.S. International Trade Commission after an investigation that includes testimony from both sides. In response, the Canadian federal government indicated that it was exploring the possibility of banning United States coal from being exported through Canadian ports and imposing a retaliatory tariff on lumber exports from Oregon. Canada did not retaliate.
- In January 2018, news outlets announced that Trump had imposed tariffs on solar panels produced outside the United States. China is currently the world leader in solar panel manufacture, and China has decried the tariffs. Environmentalists and animal rights advocates have expressed concern that the new tariffs will hurt the growth of sustainable energy and the species which are on the endangered list due to climate change.
- Trump also announced tariffs on imported washing machines in January 2018. This benefited domestic producers such as Whirlpool Corporation, whose CEO Marc Bitzer remarked, "This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool." Six months later, Whirlpool slashed its 2018 earnings outlook due to a "very challenging cost environment," with Bitzer telling analysts "The global steel costs have risen substantially, and in particular, in the US, they have reached unexplainable levels" — 60% higher than the rest of the world, due to the steel tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. That same morning, Trump tweeted "Tariffs are the greatest!" One year after the tariffs were implemented, washing machine prices had increased (having decreased during the preceding four years), shipments were down (compared to being up in the preceding two years) and Whirlpool's stock price had significantly underperformed the overall market.
- In January 2018, the Trump administration imposed a tariff specifically on one Canadian producer of newsprint, Catalyst Paper. The tariff was imposed solely on the basis of a complaint by one American newsprint producer, North Pacific Paper Company, which is owned by a New York private equity firm, One Rock Capital Partners. The tariff had an immediate negative cost impact on American newspapers, many of which cut staff, reduced frequency of publication, or shut down entirely. The United States International Trade Commission unanimously overturned the tariff on August 29, 2018.
The New York Times reported on June 7, 2018 that Trump's Council of Economic Advisors had concluded the president's tariffs strategy would hurt American economic growth. On June 29, 2018, CEA chairman Kevin Hassett declined to confirm or deny the existence of such analysis, asserting executive privilege. By June 22, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were reporting that negative effects of the Trump tariffs policy had begun to ripple through the American economy. Anecdotally, on June 22 a steel nail manufacturer in Butler County, Missouri reported losing about 50% of its sales in the two weeks after steel tariffs had been imposed, had begun layoffs and feared being out of business by Labor Day. The company—the remaining major nail producer in the country—is one of the largest employers in Butler County, where Trump won 79.2% of the 2016 vote.
The Wall Street Journal reported on July 2, 2018:
The U.S. Farm Belt helped deliver Donald Trump to the White House, drawn to his promises to revive rural America and deregulate industry. Now, the president's global trade offensive is threatening the livelihoods of many farmers.
Mounting trade disputes, spurred by U.S. threats to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of goods from key trading partners, have cut U.S. agricultural exports and sent commodity prices tumbling. Many farmers, who depend on shipments overseas for one-fifth of the goods they produce, say they are anxious, especially because they are already expecting bumper harvests or grappling with a dairy glut.
Farmers for Free Trade, an advocacy group, recently rolled out its third advertisement warning about the harmful consequences of trade fights for farmers. U.S. farm and agribusiness groups in June joined manufacturing, retail and technology organizations imploring Congress to step up oversight of the president's actions.
On July 2, 2018, the United States Chamber of Commerce—which has historically supported conservative and Republican economic policies—announced a campaign to oppose Trump's trade tariff policies by publicizing the negative economic impacts on each state.
On September 1, 2018, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the research arm of the conservative tax advocacy group National Taxpayers Union, published analysis showing that the Trump "trade taxes" implemented to date would exceed all the taxes in Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2019. The analysis also found that if proposed additional tariffs were implemented, the total tariffs would offset nearly half the 2019 benefits of Trump's 2017 tax cut.
On July 11, 2018, the United States Senate approved by an 88-11 vote a non-binding resolution calling for Trump to seek congressional approval before invoking national security to impose tariffs, as he had done with steel and aluminum tariffs against Mexico, Canada and the EU.
The Trump tariffs have been hurting American agriculture, notably in soybeans and corn, which led the Trump Administration and Department of Agriculture to first provide $12 billion to affected producers in 2018. A survey showed the next year that farmers were worried the trade war with China would not end before July 1 and that it was a bad time to make farming investments. This prompted Trump to increase his subsidies by $14.5 billion in May 2019 through the Commodity Credit Corporation who will be responsible for buying excess crops, and $1.4 billion to purchase surpluses for charity and the poor. An additional $16 billion in farm aid was allocated in July 2019.
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 7, 2018, that small businesses and start-ups were being especially hurt by the Trump tariffs because they lack the flexibility to absorb materials cost increases, raise prices for customers or shift production to other locations that larger businesses enjoy. The Journal's monthly survey of small businesses in July found the lowest confidence level since the 2016 election.
The New York Times reported in April 2019 that Wisconsin dairy farmers were facing "extinction" because Trump trade policies had exacerbated years of depressed prices caused by a production glut. Although the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement Trump had negotiated would have given dairy farmers better access to Canadian markets, the expected benefits had not materialized because the treaty had not been approved by the Senate.
Economist Paul Krugman explained in May 2019 that a tariff is essentially a regressive tax with a more adverse "bang for the buck" (impact on GDP) compared to more progressive tax increases on the wealthy. Import companies pay the tariff to the government, and consumers pay higher prices for the goods. For example, a 2019 study conducted by economists at the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve found that the Trump tariffs on washing machines raised $82 million in federal revenues but cost consumers $1.5 billion in higher prices, and while foreign producers shifted some production to America to create 1,800 jobs, each job cost $817,000. The study also found that, rather than absorbing some portion of the tariffs, manufacturers passed on between 125% and 225% of the costs to consumers, improving manufacturers’ profits.
Walmart reported in May 2019 that it would raise prices in its stores on goods from China in response to Trump's tariffs. It would attempt to limit the impact of higher prices on its shoppers by obtaining products from different countries and encouraging suppliers to absorb the higher costs.
Analysis conducted by CNBC in May 2019 found that Trump "enacted tariffs equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades," while Tax Foundation and Tax Policy Center analyses found the tariffs could wipe out the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for many households. Although Trump has repeatedly asserted that his tariffs contribute to GDP growth, the consensus among analysts — including Trump's top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow — is that the Trump tariffs have had a small to moderately negative effect on GDP growth.
Responses by specific companies
In response to the increased EU tariffs on American motorcycles, Harley-Davidson announced on June 25, 2018 that it was moving some production to foreign markets to avoid the higher tariffs. Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, noted that the reciprocal tariffs' "double whammy" effect of higher costs for raw materials and higher prices for their products in foreign markets might compel other American manufacturers to follow Harley-Davidson's lead and move production to less expensive markets.
Foreign investment in United States
Shortly after being elected, Trump cited a handful of anecdotes to assert that foreign investment had begun pouring into America because of his election. However, aggregate statistical data showed that foreign direct investment—the total flow of investment capital into the United States from the rest of the world—declined sharply during Trump's first two years in office, down 40% compared to the two years immediately preceding his presidency.
Concerned that China was acquiring advanced American technology, the Trump administration prepared to announce plans by June 30, 2018 to restrict Chinese investment in American technology companies and set technology export controls for China. Responding to reports by Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal, on June 25, 2018 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, claiming to speak on behalf of the president, denied the investment restrictions specifically targeted China, but rather applied to all countries. Later that day, Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro appeared on CNBC, first saying there would be no investment restrictions on any countries, then suggested there would be restrictions against China. Later, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated, "As the secretary said, a statement would go out that targets all countries that are trying to steal our technology, and we expect that to be out soon." These contradictions caused wild gyrations in stock markets, with the Dow closing down 328 points. The next day, Trump asserted that the Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal reports had been based on information from "a leaker that didn't know his business very well ... but probably, they just made up the story and there was no leak," despite the fact that the stories confirmed what the White House had announced on May 29, 2018:
To protect our national security, the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The proposed investment restrictions and enhanced export controls will be announced by June 30, 2018, and they will be implemented shortly thereafter.
The Trump administration announced on June 27, 2018 that it had decided not to proceed with either the investment restrictions or the export controls outlined in the May 29 announcement—either on China or on all countries—instead favoring a bill moving through Congress to expand the Committee on Foreign Investment to vet foreign investments more closely.
While discussing the effects of the Trump tax cut on June 29, 2018, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow asserted that "capital investment, you know, for new jobs and better careers, [is] flowing in from all corners of the world." However, foreign direct investment—the total flow of investment capital into the United States from the rest of the world—declined 35% on a year-on-year basis during the first quarter after the tax cut, the most recent data available. That was consistent with the 37% decline during Trump's first five quarters in office, compared to the five quarters immediately preceding his presidency.
In August 2019, Trump asserted that "massive amounts of money from China and other parts of the world is pouring into the United States." However, Treasury department data released that month showed that the sum of net foreign acquisitions of long-term securities, short-term U.S. securities, and banking flows had swung from a positive inflow of $813.8 billion for the 12 months ended June 2018 to a negative outflow of $13.6 billion during the 12 months ended June 2019.
Analysis published on March 8, 2018 by the Council on Foreign Relations found that Trump's proposed steel tariffs could result in the loss of up to 40,000 jobs in the auto manufacturing industry.
On March 12, 2018, over 40 economists polled by the University of Chicago's IGM Forum unanimously either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that: "Imposing new US tariffs on steel and aluminum will improve Americans' welfare."
Paul Krugman wrote on March 15, 2018: "What we need is a renewed commitment to universal health care, much more investment in infrastructure, policies to help families and a return to policies that empower unions, especially in the service sector. Defining trade as the problem is just a way to duck real solutions."
CNN reported on May 31, 2018 that the CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business organization that generally supports Republican politicians, wrote a memo to his board which cited outside studies showing Trump's trade policies could put 2.6 million American jobs at risk.
Deregulation refers to either removing or limiting government regulations of a market. President Trump and other Republicans believe that some U.S. markets are over-regulated. However, the U.S. ranks high on the world scale of regulatory freedom, ranking 17th (mostly free) out of 169 countries on the 2017 Heritage Foundation freedom index and sixth out of 143 countries on the 2016 Cato Institute freedom index, meaning the U.S. markets are relatively unregulated compared to other countries. It is arguable whether additional deregulation would be beneficial. For example, regulations or anti-trust action that address monopoly or oligopoly conditions can improve competition in a market, lowering prices and expanding output and employment.
A report released in February 2018 by the Trump administration Office of Management and Budget (OMB) analyzed 137 "major" federal regulations (those with $100 million or more in economic impact) from FY2007 through FY2016, a period that encompasses all but the last four months of the Obama administration. According to OMB calculations, in constant 2015 dollars the overall economic benefits far outweighed the economic costs, with aggregate benefits ranging from $302 to $930 billion, while aggregate costs ranged from $88 to $128 billion. Overall, the lowest estimate of regulatory benefits exceeded the highest estimate of regulatory costs by a ratio of 2.3X. Among the department/agency regulations that were evaluated, the largest ratio of lowest estimated benefits to highest estimated costs was 3.0X for the EPA, which the Trump administration has targeted for particularly aggressive regulatory rollback under administrator Scott Pruitt. Journalist David Roberts wrote in Vox in March 2018 that: "According to OMB – and to the federal agencies upon whose data OMB mostly relied – the core of the Trumpian case against Obama regulations, arguably the organizing principle of Trump's administration, is false." Rolling back Obama-era regulations can cost money, rather than save it, and there was no discernible job impact.
The QuantGov project at the Mercatus Center tracks the count of federal regulations containing restrictive terms such as "shall," "prohibited" or "may not." Their data indicate that such regulations increased 0.7% in calendar 2017, compared to 1.1% in 2016 and 0.1% in 2015, and compared to an average of 1.4% over the preceding 20 years.
President Trump began a "high-profile" regulatory roll-back during 2017. The Administration adopted a more lenient approach to pollution relative to both the Bush and Obama Administrations, with less stringent enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump announced the U.S. would leave the Paris Agreement on June 1, 2017. Under the Agreement, each country determines, plans and regularly reports its own contribution and targets for mitigating global warming. There is no mechanism to force a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. As of November 2017, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, and 170 have become party to it.
The New York Times Editorial Board wrote on June 1, 2017: "Mr. Trump's policies – the latest of which was his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change – have dismayed America's allies, defied the wishes of much of the American business community he pretends to help, threatened America's competitiveness as well as job growth in crucial industries and squandered what was left of America's claim to leadership on an issue of global importance." The Editorial Board referred to Trump's argument that an agreement to fight climate change would hurt the U.S. economy as "bogus."
Banking and consumer protection
President Trump began efforts to loosen regulations imposed on financial institutions under the Dodd-Frank Act, which was implemented following the 2007–2008 subprime mortgage crisis. The president also installed budget director Mick Mulvaney to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established by Dodd-Frank. Mr. Mulvaney had been a "staunch opponent" of the Agency's past history of broad regulations. President Trump tweeted on November 25, 2017 that "Financial institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public" even though commercial banks generated a record level of profit of $157 billion in 2016, lending activity was robust, and bank stocks were in record territory. The Trump administration and others have asserted that excessive financial regulation since 2008 has caused banks, particularly smaller banks, to decline in numbers. However, the FDIC has noted that "Consolidation in the U.S. banking industry is a multidecade trend that reduced the number of federally insured banks from 17,901 in 1984 to 7,357 in 2011" and this trend has continued through 2017.
The Republican-controlled House passed the Financial CHOICE Act, an expansive rollback of the Dodd-Frank Act, on June 8, 2017. A less aggressive bill was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14, 2018. The House approved the Senate measure on May 22, 2018.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality regulations (the Open Internet Order) on December 14, 2017. This is expected to reduce the regulation of broadband (telecom) companies (such as AT&T and Comcast) that connect consumers' homes to the internet, essentially no longer regulating them as utilities. These providers tend to have little competition in a geographic area. Advocates and critics argued whether the move would help or hurt consumers and how it would shift market power between broadband providers and content providers (e.g., Netflix). This reversed a 2015 decision by the FCC.
Household financial position
The stock market (S&P500) was up a cumulative 45% through Trump's first three years, versus 53% for Obama and 57% for Clinton. The stock market, as measured by the S&P 500, increased 19.4% in 2017, lost 6.3% in 2018, and gained 28.9% in 2019. Results in recent years included: 2013 +30%; 2014 +11%; 2015 -1%; and 2016 +10%. The 2018 result was the worst since 2008. During President Trump's first term, the SP500 rose initially from around 2,250 in January 2017 to a peak around 2,900 in January 2018, fell to a low point near 2,350 in December 2018, and was around 3,231 at the end of 2019. The U.S. stock market has grown consistently since its low point in March 2009, arguably the longest "bull market" in U.S. history. It climbed 320% from its trough on March 9, 2009 through August 2018.
Comparing stock market (S&P500) cumulative returns by President for their first 721 trading days (for Trump, through November 29, 2019), Trump was up +38%, Obama +44%, G.W. Bush -20%, Bill Clinton +38%, H.W. Bush +31% and Ronald Reagan +27%.
However, about half of Americans have not participated in this bull market. In March 2017, NPR summarized the distribution of U.S. stock market ownership (direct and indirect through mutual funds) in the U.S., which is highly concentrated among the wealthiest families:
- 52% of U.S. adults owned stock in 2016. Ownership peaked at 65% in 2007 and fell significantly due to the Great Recession.
- As of 2013, the top 1% of households owned 38% of stock market wealth.
- As of 2013, the top 10% own 81% of stock market wealth, the next 10% (80th to 90th percentile) own 11% and the bottom 80% own 8%.
NPR reported that when politicians reference the stock market as a measure of economic success, that success is not relevant to nearly half of Americans. Further, more than one-third of Americans who work full-time have no access to pensions or retirement accounts such as 401(k)s that derive their value from financial assets like stocks and bonds. The NYT reported that the percentage of workers covered by generous defined-benefit pension plans has declined from 62% in 1983 to 17% by 2016. While some economists consider an increase in the stock market to have a "wealth effect" that increases economic growth, economists like Former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher believe those effects are limited.
During 2018, the stock market rose to a peak year-to-date gain of 9.6% as of September 20, then reversed back to the January starting point for no year-to-date gain by October 24. Analysts expressed concerns about a variety of factors, including rising interest rates and a possible trade war with China.
Under Trump, the S&P 500 Index has hit record highs, however, stock markets will consistently hit new heights with a growing economy. An April 2019 Yahoo Finance study of post-1980 data of that stock market index found that every single president in that date range (Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama) had achieved multiple stock market highs.
Household net worth and income
Household net worth is the sum of financial, real estate, and business assets (non-corporate), less liabilities. In nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation) it declined in 2008 due to the Great Recession but resumed steadily rising in 2009 and reached its sixth consecutive annual record high in 2017. This was primarily driven by stock market increases, although housing price increases also contributed. The $100 trillion level was reached in Q1 2018, which is approximately $800,000 per household on average. However, the median (50th percentile) family had $100,000 net worth in 2016, an indicator of the dramatic wealth inequality in the U.S.
Real median household income increased 1.4% in 2017 and 0.9% in 2018, both slower rates than in 2015 and 2016, but both still leading to record high levels of income that began in 2016. The Council of Economic Advisers had estimated in October 2017 that the corporate tax cut of the TCJA would increase real median household income by $3000 to $7000 annually, but during the first year following enactment of the tax cut the figure increased by $553, which the Census Bureau characterized as statistically insignificant.
Household Economic Well-Being
In its annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households released on May 22, 2018, the Federal Reserve found that 74% of surveyed adults were either "doing okay" or "living comfortably" in 2017, up from 70% in 2016, the fourth consecutive increase since the Fed first asked that survey question in 2013.
Effect of gas prices
Gas prices rose from $2.34/gallon in May 2017 to $2.84 in May 2018, cutting into the tax cut savings. Economist Mark Zandi stated: "If the 50-cent per gallon increase in gas prices remains, it would cost the average American $450 a year, offsetting about half the tax [cut] benefit." President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal was one factor in the increase in gas and oil prices, along with quotas established by OPEC in the face of an economy growing worldwide.
In July 27, 2018 remarks about the economy, Trump stated, "More than 10 million additional Americans had been added to food stamps, past years. But we've turned it all around." SNAP participation had been steadily declining since December 2012.
Nominal corporate profits after tax declined from $1,787 billion in 2016 to $1,680 billion in 2017, a decrease of 6.0%. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is expected to increase corporate after-tax profits significantly beginning in 2018, when the corporate tax rate falls from 35% to 21%. For example, corporate profits after tax (annualized) rose from $1,845 billion for Q2 2017 to $1,969 billion in Q2 2018, up $124 billion or 6.7%, an all-time dollar record. At 9.64% GDP, they were below the Q1 2010 to Q4 2016 average of 10.22% GDP.
Bank profits reached a record high of $56 billion in the first quarter following enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, although the figure would have been a record high $49.4 billion without the tax cut.
Income and wealth inequality
The New York Times editorial board characterized the tax bill as both a consequence and a cause of income and wealth inequality: "Most Americans know that the Republican tax bill will widen economic inequality by lavishing breaks on corporations and the wealthy while taking benefits away from the poor and the middle class. What many may not realize is that growing inequality helped create the bill in the first place. As a smaller and smaller group of people cornered an ever-larger share of the nation's wealth, so too did they gain an ever-larger share of political power. They became, in effect, kingmakers; the tax bill is a natural consequence of their long effort to bend American politics to serve their interests." The corporate tax rate was 48% in the 1970s and is 21% under the Act. The top individual rate was 70% in the 1970s and is 37% under the Act. Despite these large cuts, incomes for the working class have stagnated and workers now pay a larger share of the pre-tax income in payroll taxes.
The share of income going to the top 1% has doubled, from 10% to 20%, since the pre-1980 period, while the share of wealth owned by the top 1% has risen from around 25% to 42%. Despite President Trump promising to address those left behind, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would make inequality far worse:
- The Tax Policy Center estimated that the bottom 80% of taxpayers (income under $149,400) would receive 35% of the benefit in 2018, 34% in 2025 and none of the benefit in 2027, with some groups incurring costs.
- Sizable corporate tax cuts would flow mostly to wealthy executives and shareholders;
- In 2019, a person in the bottom 10% would average a $50 tax cut, while a person in the top 1% gets a $34,000 tax cut;
- Up to 13 million persons losing health insurance or subsidies are overwhelmingly in the bottom 30% of the income distribution;
- The top 1% receives approximately 70% of the pass-through income, which will be subject to much lower taxes;
- Rolling back the estate tax, which only impacted the top 0.2% of estates in 2016, is a $150 billion benefit [Note: The final version of the tax law reduced this to $83 billion] to the ultra-rich over 10 years.
- The top 1% of households own 40% of stocks; the bottom 80% just 7%, even when including indirect ownership through mutual funds.
In 2027, if the tax cuts are matched by spending cuts borne evenly by all families, after-tax income would be 3.0% higher for the top 0.1%, 1.5% higher for the top 10%, -0.6% for the middle 40% (30th to 70th percentile) and -2.0% for the bottom 50%.
The NYT reported in July 2018 that: "The top-earning 1 percent of households—those earning more than $607,000 a year—will pay a combined $111 billion less this year in federal taxes than they would have if the laws had remained unchanged since 2000. That's an enormous windfall. It's more, in total dollars, than the tax cut received over the same period by the entire bottom 60 percent of earners." This represents the tax cuts for the top 1% from the Bush tax cuts and Trump tax cuts, partially offset by the tax increases on the top 1% by Obama.
In December 2019, CBO forecast that inequality would worsen between 2016 and 2021, due in part to the Trump tax cuts and policies regarding means-tested transfers. Their report had several conclusions:
- After taxes and transfers, the income of the top 1% would grow more than other income groups, continuing previous trends.
- Income of households in the bottom 99% percent would be higher than at any time in the past, adjusted for inflation, also continuing previous trends.
- For the top 1%, average federal tax rates would fall from 33% in 2016 to 30% (3 percentage points) in 2021. For the 81st to 99th percentiles, the rate would fall from 24% to 22%, and for the middle three quintiles, the rate would fall from 15% to 14%. These trends indicate worsening inequality, with larger tax reductions for higher incomes.
- The gini index would rise, indicating increasing inequality, reversing a trend from the latter part of the Obama administration.
- Means-tested transfer programs would contribute less to reducing inequality in 2021 than they did in 2016.
Evolution of economic policies
Early economic plan
On the federal personal income tax, Trump has proposed collapsing the current seven brackets (which range from 10% to 39.6%) to three brackets of 10%, 20%, and 25%; increasing the standard deduction; taxing dividends and capital gains at a maximum rate of 20%; repealing the alternative minimum tax; and taxing carried interest income as ordinary business income (as opposed to existing law, which provides for preferential treatment of such income). With respect to business taxes, Trump has proposed reducing the corporate tax rate to 15%; limiting the top individual income tax rate on pass-through businesses such as partnerships to no more than 15%; repealing most business tax breaks as well as the corporate alternative minimum tax; imposing a "deemed repatriation tax" of up to 10% of accumulated profits of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies on the effective date of the proposal, payable over 10 years; and taxing future profits of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies each year as the profits are earned (i.e., ending the deferral of income taxes on corporate income earned in other countries). Trump has also called for the repeal of the federal estate tax and gift taxes and for capping the deductibility of business interest expenses.
Detailed analyses by both two nonpartisan tax research organizations, the conservative Tax Foundation and centrist Tax Policy Center, concluded that Trump's tax plan would "boost the after-tax incomes of the wealthiest households by an average of more than $1.3 million a year" and significantly lower taxes for the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center "calculated the average tax cuts for the rich and the very rich" under Trump's plan as "$275,000 or 17.5 percent of after-tax income for the top 1 percent, and $1.3 million or nearly 19 percent for the top 0.1 percent (those making over $3.7 million)."
An analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found that under Trump's plan, the poorest 20% of Americans would see a tax cut averaging $250, middle-income Americans would see a tax cut averaging just over $2,500, and the best-off 1% of Americans would see a tax cut averaging over $227,000. CTJ determined that 37% of Trump's proposed tax cuts would benefit the top 1%.
Trump's claims that his tax plan would be "revenue neutral" have been rated "false" by PolitiFact, which found that "Free market-oriented and liberal groups alike say Trump's tax plan would lead to a $10 trillion revenue loss, even if it did create economic growth." An analysis by the Tax Foundation indicated that Trump's tax proposal would increase economic growth by 11% and wages by 6.5%, and create 5.3 million jobs, while decreasing revenue by $10 trillion over a decade. Prominent anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform called Trump's tax proposal a "pro-growth, Reaganite plan"; as of May 2016, Trump has not signed Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge, but has indicated that he will in the future.
Trump has pledged to balance the budget in five years; not cut Social Security or Medicare; increase defense spending; and enact tax cuts that would lose $9.5 trillion of revenues over the next decade. Economist Jared Bernstein notes that it is mathematically impossible to fulfill all of these pledges, writing: "Trump would need to cut spending outside the Social Security, Medicare, and defense by 114 percent to make his budget balance, which is, of course, impossible." Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, stated a proposal "loses probably something in the neighborhood of $5 trillion in revenue over 10 years with regressive tax cuts that exacerbate the inequalities that already exist in our economy." The fact-checking website PolitiFact similarly concluded: "Trump's tax plan means either unprecedented spending cuts or increased federal borrowing. But Trump has released no details about the gap, all the while vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare, two of the largest line items on the federal budget."
An analysis of Trump's campaign proposals by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) showed that Trump's key proposals would increase the debt by between $11.7 and $15.1 trillion to the U.S. national debt over the next 10 years, with the U.S.'s debt-to-GDP ratio rising from 115% to 140% of GDP. The CRFB analysis showed that "growth would have to be roughly 5 times as large as projected, and twice as high as the fastest growth period in the last 60 years (which was between 1959 and 1968)" in order to balance the budget under Trump's plan, which is "practically impossible."
Trump has vowed "tremendous cutting" of budgets for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Education if elected. However, Trump has "proposed large spending increases in certain areas," which the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities states would mean "even deeper cuts to other programs" if such spending increases are to be offset.
On May 9, 2016, Trump said on Meet the Press: "The thing I'm going to do is make sure the middle class gets good tax breaks. For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it's going to go up. And you know what, it really should go up." The following day, Trump backtracked on his comment on taxation of the wealthy, "saying he had been referring to potential adjustments to his own tax policy proposal" and did not support an increase in taxes of the wealthy from current levels. Trump's has frequently throughout his presidential campaign changed his view as to whether the wealthy should see tax cuts or increases.
Trump's campaign claimed that the combination of income tax cuts, deregulation, trade protectionism, and additional spending for defense and infrastructure would significantly increase economic growth and job creation. During Trump's first 100 days as president, the federal total public debt decreased by $101 billion, although it increased $546 billion over his first year.
- According to a report by Moody's Analytics, released in June 2016, the implementation of Trump's stated economic policies would make the U.S. economy "significantly weaker" following an initial boost:
Under the scenario in which all his stated policies become law in the manner proposed, the economy suffers a lengthy recession and is smaller at the end of his four-year term than when he took office (see Chart). By the end of his presidency, there are close to 3.5 million fewer jobs and the unemployment rate rises to as high as 7%, compared with below 5% today. During Mr. Trump's presidency, the average American household's after-inflation income will stagnate, and stock prices and real house values will decline. Under the scenarios in which Congress significantly waters down his policy proposals, the economy will not suffer as much, but would still be diminished compared with what it would have been with no change in economic policies.
- The Trump campaign disputed Moody's analysis, arguing that the report was based on flawed assumptions about proposals that have not been fully fleshed out and that Trump's tax cuts and deregulation proposals would help stimulate the economy. A Trump adviser also asserted that the costs of Trump's trade and immigration proposals had been overweighted in the analysis by not factoring in how current policies have depressed the wages of U.S. workers.
- According to an analysis by the British research firm Oxford Economics, U.S. economic growth would slow to about 0.3 percent annually – the worst pace since the end of the recession – after two years of Trump's stated policies. In the absence of Trump's policies, the U.S. economy would be $430 billion larger after five years. Global economic growth would decline to about 2.2 percent annually, compared to a forecast of 2.9 percent if Trump's policies were not implemented. The Oxford Economics analysis diverges from the Moody's analysis in that the former assumes that the Federal Reserve would help to mitigate the ramifications of Trump's policies by keeping interest rates close to zero.
- According to an analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Trump's proposed tariff increases on China and Mexico could, if China and Mexico retaliate with their own tariff increases, push the U.S. into recession and cost 5 million U.S. jobs. Even more limited retaliation by China and Mexico, or an aborted trade war (the Trump administration backs down from its tariff increases one year into them) would hit the U.S. economy hard. Gary Clyde Hufbauer, senior fellow at PIIE, notes that there is ample precedent and scope for a U.S. president to unilaterally raise tariffs as Trump has vowed to do, and that efforts to block Trump's actions through the courts, or by amending the authorizing statutes in Congress, would be difficult and time-consuming.
- According to an analysis by University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers of stock market movements during the first Presidential Debate, the market performs far more poorly when Trump's chances of becoming President are higher. The analysis shows that Wall Street traders expect the profitability of America's largest businesses to be about 10 to 12 percent lower on average in the event of Trump presidency.
- According to a Financial Times survey of economists, just under 14% of the economists polled between July 28–29 said a Trump victory in November would be positive for U.S. economic growth (compared with roughly 70% for Clinton). According to a survey of National Association for Business Economics (NABE) members, 14% of business economists feel that Trump would do the best job as president of managing the U.S. economy (with 55% choosing Clinton, 15% choosing Gary Johnson, and 15% saying that they did not know or did not have an opinion). According to a survey by The Wall Street Journal, none of the 45 former members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers—spanning eight presidents—openly support Mr. Trump. According to the Financial Times, "most mainstream economists view his economic policies as dangerous quackery."
- 370 prominent economists, including 8 Nobel laureates, have signed a letter warning against the election of Donald Trump, calling him a "dangerous, destructive choice" for the country. The letter said that he had not proposed credible solutions to reduce budget deficits, that he has promoted misleading claims about trade and tax policy, chided him for failing to "listen to credible experts" and for promoting "magical thinking and conspiracy theories over sober assessments of feasible economic policy options."
- According to a November 2016 survey of leading economists, not a single respondent believed that Trump's 100-day plan ("Seven actions to protect American workers") was likely to benefit middle-class Americans, and only one economist believed that it was likely to improve the lives of low-skilled Americans.
- Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in June 2017 that: "We may have our first post-rational president. Trump has rejected the view of modern science on global climate change, embraced economic forecasts and trade theories outside the range of reputable opinion, and relied on the idea of 'alternative facts' rather than evidence-based truth."
Taxation 2016 campaign
On August 8, 2016, Trump outlined a new economic plan that promised significant income tax cuts at all levels of income. The day before, Trump removed his previous tax plan from his website. Trump stated that he would flesh out these ideas in more detail in the ensuing days.
He proposed to reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three, and replace the rates ranging from 10% to 39.6% with 12%, 25% and 33%. He proposed to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. The Washington Post notes that a 15% corporate tax rate would be put the United States near the bottom of the "major industrialized nations", where the average is about 25 percent. He proposed to repeal the estate tax, which applies to inheritance for estates valued at $5.45 million for individuals and $10.9 million for couples, or roughly the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans. Trump also said he would eliminate the carried interest loophole. Trump's plan would also "eliminate the alternative minimum tax and the 3.8 percent net investment income tax, which was levied on high-income households to help fund Medicare expansion under the Affordable Care Act."
Trump has repeatedly stated that the United States is the "highest-taxed nation in the world". His statement has been fully dismissed as false by the Associated Press and PolitiFact, The Associated Press noted that the individual tax burden in the U.S. is one of the lowest in the OECD economies. According to the Tax Foundation, the U.S. general corporate tax rate amounts to 39%, the third highest in the world. The nominal corporate tax rate of 35% is higher than any other OECD nation; however, many companies pay far below this amount by taking advantage of loopholes. The average company in the S&P 500 paid 26.9% in federal, state, local and foreign taxes each year from 2007–2015.
An analysis by Lily L. Batchelder of New York University School of Law estimated that Trump's new tax plan would cost more than $5 trillion over ten years and would raise taxes for lower and middle income families with children. The research found that the plan would result in gains on standard deduction, but losses on individual deduction. According to the Tax Policy Center, Trump's economic plan would raise taxes on many families. For instance, families with head-of-household filing status making between $20,000 and $200,000, including many single parents, would pay more under Trump's plan than under current tax law. Another study by the Wharton School of Business estimated that Trump's tax plan would create economic growth of 1.12% above the baseline and create 1.7 million jobs in 2018, although there would be a much larger loss of jobs and economic growth by 2027 and further by 2040. The Wharton study results were based on a controversial "dynamic scoring model, rather than a standard static model used by the Tax Center. The Tax Foundation assessed that by 2025 the Trump tax plan would increase the long-run size of the economy by 6.9% to 8.2%, but by adding $2.6 trillion and $3.9 trillion to federal debt. This growth would lead to an increase in wages of 5.4% to 6.3%, an increase in capital stock of 20.1% to 23.9%, and the creation of 1.8 to 2.2 million jobs.
Before Trump declared his candidacy for president in 2015, he regularly shamed and criticized others for not paying their fair share of taxes. However, in the September 2016 presidential debate, Trump said that using loopholes to avoid paying income taxes in the 1970s "makes me smart." In October 2016, the New York Times reported that Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years. The Trump campaign did not challenge the accuracy of the tax returns or correct the claim that Trump might not have paid income taxes for 18 years. Trump also chastised Mitt Romney in 2012 for delaying on releasing his tax returns. Trump has, however, not released his tax returns.
In September 2016, Trump advisors Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro asserted that the increased economic growth stimulated by Trump's proposed income tax cuts and additional military and infrastructure spending would offset much or all of the increased budget deficits caused by these tax cuts and spending increases. However, several organizations have reported that such actions would significantly increase the budget deficit and national debt relative to a 2016 policy baseline. For example:
- According to a September 2016 report by the independent and non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Trump's economic policies would increase the national debt by $5.3 trillion over 10 years, on top of the significant debt increase already in the current law baseline.
- According to a September 2016 analysis by the conservative Tax Foundation, Trump's tax plan would reduce federal revenue by around $4.4 to $5.9 trillion over 10 years. The $1.5 trillion gap is because the Trump campaign has not clarified some aspects of the tax plan and have provided contradictory explanations. While the tax plan would reduce taxes across the spectrum, it does so the most for the richest Americans.
In 1999 Trump proposed a massive one-time "net worth tax" on the rich to wipe out the national debt. Elizabeth Warren and Paul Krugman initially agreed with Trump's early positions on taxing the wealthy, but not his published positions going into the election, which dramatically reduced taxes for the wealthy. Paul Krugman wrote in May 2016: "Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich. And it would also, according to non-partisan analyses, cause deficits to explode, adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade." In 2011 Trump called for a balanced budget amendment, but it was not part of his campaign website policies.
Economist Mark Zandi estimated that if Trump's tax cuts and spending increases were fully implemented as proposed, the national debt trajectory would worsen considerably, with debt held by the public rising from 76% GDP in 2016 to 135% GDP in 2026, considerably above a current policy baseline that rises to 86% GDP in 2026. If only some of Trump's policies were implemented under an alternative scenario of more moderate changes, the debt figure would rise to 111% GDP by 2026. In May 2016, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget placed the 2026 debt figure under Trump's policies between 111% GDP and 141% GDP, versus 86% under the current policy baseline.
In two interviews in May 2016, Trump suggested that he would "refinance" the U.S. federal debt as a means to relieve the debt. Trump said that he would not seek to renegotiate the bonds, but rather would seek to buy the bonds back at a discount. Economists and other experts variously described Trump's debt proposal as incoherent, fanciful, and reckless, stating that the proposal, if carried into effect, "would send interest rates soaring, derail economic growth and undermine confidence in the world's most trusted financial asset." Tony Fratto, a former U.S. Treasury Department who served under George W. Bush, termed Trump's suggestion to refinance the U.S. debt "an insane idea" that "would cause creditors to rightly question the 'full faith' commitment we make." The New York Times reported that: "Repurchasing debt is a fairly common tactic in the corporate world, but it only works if the debt is trading at a discount. If creditors think they are going to get 80 cents for every dollar they are owed, they may be overjoyed to get 90 cents. Mr. Trump's companies had sometimes been able to retire debt at a discount because creditors feared they might default ... However, the United States simply cannot pursue a similar strategy. The government runs an annual deficit, so it must borrow to retire existing debt. Any measures that would reduce the value of the existing debt, making it cheaper to repurchase, would increase the cost of issuing new debt. Such a threat also could undermine the stability of global financial markets."
Social Security and Medicare
Trump has called for allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with prescription-drug companies to get lower prices for the Medicare Part D prescription-drug benefit, something currently prohibited by law. Trump has claimed on several occasions that this proposal would save $300 billion a year. Glenn Kessler, the fact-checker for the Washington Post, gave this statement a "four Pinocchios" rating, writing that this was a "truly absurd" and "nonsense figure" because it was four times the entire cost of the Medicare prescription-drug system. Trump abandoned the plan in May 2018, as well as his campaign promise to allow Americans to import cheaper pharmaceuticals from foreign countries.
Unlike his rivals in the 2016 Republican primary race, Trump opposes cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. This is a departure from Trump's earlier views; in his book published in 2000, Trump called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" and said it should be privatized. Trump previously proposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 from 67, but he backed away from this stance in 2015, instead claiming that Social Security should be funded by canceling foreign aid to anti-American countries. In fiscal 2015, total spending for "international affairs" comprised 1.3% of all federal government spending, while Social Security comprised 24.1%.
On November 2, 2017, Trump nominated Jerome Powell to succeed Janet Yellen as Chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Powell was confirmed by the Senate on January 23, 2018 on an 84-13 vote. A member of the Fed's Board of Governors since 2012, Powell consistently voted with Yellen on major policy issues.
Trump supports proposals that would grant Congress the ability to audit the Federal Reserve's decisionmaking and take power away from the Federal Reserve. Jerome Powell, Trump's nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, reiterated in his Senate confirmation hearings his long-standing opposition to "Audit The Fed" legislation, which had been proposed in various forms in recent years and had been revived by Republicans days earlier.
Trump has at times said that he favors the monetary policy currently followed by Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and at other times said that the Federal Reserve has created a "very false economy" and that interest rates should change. Trump said in September 2016 that Yellen should be "ashamed" of herself for keeping interest rates low, but earlier that year Trump said that low interest rates were "the best thing we have going for us" and that any increase could be "scary." Trump has at other times accused Yellen of being "highly political" and of doing President Obama's bidding, and at other times complimented her on having "done a serviceable job" though he "would be more inclined to put other people in" the Federal Reserve. Upon nominating Jerome Powell to succeed Yellen, Trump described her as "a wonderful woman who's done a terrific job ... absolutely a spectacular person." He reiterated the critique of the Federal Reserve as an arm of the Democratic Party at the September 2016 Presidential Debate, an accusation which The New York Times found to be "extraordinary", "backed by no evidence" and "plows across a bipartisan line". The accusation is rejected both by Federal Reserve officials and independent expert observers.
The Fed raised its target federal funds interest rate five times between the 2016 election and April 2018 amid continuing economic growth and job creation.
In April 2019, one week after asserting, "the economy is roaring" and "our country has never done better economically," Trump called for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates and renew quantitative easing to stimulate economic growth. Trump has been repeatedly critical of the Fed's use of low interest rates and quantitative easing to boost the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession during the Obama presidency. Although Trump blamed high interest rates for slowing growth, November 2018 CEA analysis forecast 2019 real GDP growth of 3.2% with an average 10-year Treasury note yield of 3.4%, but the actual yield averaged 2.3% through August 2019 year-to-date.
Trump favors returning to the gold standard, saying "Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but, boy, would it be wonderful. We'd have a standard on which to base our money." Few economists support a return to the gold standard; Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that the proposal is considered a fringe idea among economists.
Financial regulation and other regulations
In May 2016, Trump said that if elected president he would dismantle "nearly all" of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a financial regulation package enacted after the financial crisis. Trump called Dodd-Frank "a very negative force." Trump told Reuters that he will release his own financial regulation plan in the beginning of June 2016.
Trump promised to roll back existing regulations and impose a moratorium on new regulations, with a specific focus on undoing environmental rules that he said curtail job creation. The Wall Street Journal noted that, "It isn't clear how such a moratorium would apply to financial regulators, whose agencies enjoy greater independence from the executive branch" and that he "made no mention of past calls to repeal or replace parts of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory overhaul." In October 2016, Trump proposed to eliminate as many as 70 percent of federal agency regulations.
When announcing his candidacy in June 2015, Trump said that his experience as a negotiator in private business would enhance his ability to negotiate better international trade deals as President. Trump identifies himself as a "free trader," but has been widely described as a "protectionist". Trump has described supporters of international trade as "blood suckers." According to the New York Times, since at least the 1980s, Trump has advanced mercantilist views, "describing trade as a zero-sum game in which countries lose by paying for imports." On the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, Trump has decried the U.S.-China trade imbalance—calling it "the greatest theft in the history of the world"—and regularly advocates tariffs. Economists dispute the idea that a trade deficit amounts to a loss or "theft", as a trade deficit is simply the difference between what the United States imports and what it exports to a country. Trump shares some views on trade with Bernie Sanders, at least in the sense that they both are skeptical of free trade. When asked why the clothes in the Donald J. Trump collection were not made in the United States, Trump answered that "They don't even make this stuff here," a claim found to be false by FactCheck.org.
Trump's views on trade have upended the traditional Republican policies favoring free trade. Binyamin Appelbaum, reporting for the New York Times, has summarized Trump's proposals as breaking with 200 years of economics orthodoxy.
A number of economists and free-market proponents at groups such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, American Enterprise Institute, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Adam Smith Institute, Cato Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Club for Growth have been harshly critical of Trump's views on trade, viewing them as likely to start trade wars and harm consumers. According to economists consulted by the Los Angeles Times, recent U.S. experience with imposing tariffs on goods has had little to no positive impact on the protected industries and harmed consumers through higher prices.
Research shows that the mere threat of tariffs adversely affects international trade flows by creating policy uncertainty, so even if Trump never ends up enacting his proposed tariffs, the threat alone "is likely already discouraging potential exporters around the world from attempting to enter the US market." A September 2019 Federal Reserve study found that tariffs Trump imposed through mid-2019, combined with the policy uncertainty they created, would reduce the 2020 real GDP growth rate by one percentage point.
On March 6, 2018, Trump's director of the National Economic Council and former chairman of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn, announced his intention to resign. The announcement followed the president's proposal to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminum and Trump's cancellation of a meeting with end-users of steel and aluminum that Cohn had arranged in an attempt to dissuade the president from the planned tariffs. Later that day, Cohn did resign his White House position, effective immediately.
A January 2019 American intelligence community assessment found that Trump's trade policies and unilateralism had damaged traditional alliances and induced foreign partners to seek new relationships.
In a 60 Minutes interview in September 2015, Trump condemned the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), saying that if elected president, "We will either renegotiate it, or we will break it." A range of trade experts have said that pulling out of NAFTA as Trump proposed would have a range of unintended consequences for the U.S., including reduced access to the U.S.'s biggest export markets, a reduction in economic growth, and increased prices for gasoline, cars, fruits, and vegetables. The Washington Post fact-checker furthermore noted that a Congressional Research Service review of the academic literature on NAFTA concluded that the "net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest, primarily because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for a small percentage of U.S. GDP."
Trade with China
In January 2016, Trump proposed a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the United States to give "American workers a level playing field." According to an analysis by Capital Economics, Trump's proposed tariff may hurt U.S. consumers by driving U.S. retail price of Chinese made goods up 10 percent, because of few alternative suppliers in key product classes that China sells to the U.S. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported in December 2014 that "Growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs, 2.4 million (three-fourths) of which were in manufacturing." EPI reported these losses were distributed across all 50 states.
Trump has vowed to label China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, citing experts such as C. Fred Bergsten, found that "Trump's complaints about currency manipulation are woefully out of date," noting that "China has not manipulated its currency for at least two years."
Trump has pledged "swift, robust and unequivocal" action against Chinese piracy, counterfeit American goods, and theft of U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property; and has condemned China's "illegal export subsidies and lax labor and environmental standards." When asked about potential Chinese retaliation to the implementation of tariffs, such as sales of U.S. bonds, Trump deemed the Chinese unlikely to retaliate, "They will crash their economy ... They will have a depression, the likes of which you have never seen if they ever did that." In a May 2016 speech, Trump responded to concerns regarding a potential trade war with "We're losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there's a trade war?"
Trade with Mexico
Trump has vowed to impose tariffs—in the range of 15 to 35 percent—on companies that move their operations to Mexico. He has specifically criticized the Ford Motor Co., Carrier Corporation, and Mondelez International. Trump has pledged a 35% tariff on "every car, every truck and every part manufactured in Ford's Mexico plant that comes across the border." Tariffs at that level would be far higher than the international norms (which are around 2.67 percent for the U.S. and most other advanced economies and under 10 percent for most developing countries). In August 2015, in response to Oreo maker Mondelez International's announcement that it would move manufacturing to Mexico, Trump said that he would boycott Oreos.
According to economic experts canvassed by PolitiFact, the tariffs could help create new manufacturing jobs and lead to some concessions from the U.S.'s foreign trading partners, but consumer costs and production costs would almost certainly rise, the stock market would fall, interest rates could rise, and trade wars could occur. PolitiFact noted that lower-income consumers in the United States would be hurt the most.
Trump opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying "The deal is insanity. That deal should not be supported and it should not be allowed to happen ... We are giving away what ultimately is going to be a back door for China." Trump has asserted that the TPP will "be even worse than ... NAFTA ... We will lose jobs, we will lose employment, we will lose taxes, we will lose everything. We will lose our country." In September 2016, Trump said that he would only support TPP as President if it were "phenomenal" for the U.S.
World Trade Organization
Trump has called the World Trade Organization (WTO) a "disaster". When informed that tariffs in the range of 15 to 35 percent would be contrary to the rules of the WTO, he answered "even better. Then we're going to renegotiate or we're going to pull out." On July 1, 2018, Axios acquired a leaked draft of a Trump administration bill entitled the "United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act," which would allow the United States to ignore WTO rules.
In September 2016, Trump said: "We reject the pessimism that says our standard of living can no longer rise, and that all that's left to do is divide up and redistribute our shrinking resources." However, U.S. household and non-profit net worth has approximately doubled from 2000 to 2016, from $44 trillion to $89 trillion, a record level, according to the Federal Reserve. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office reported in June 2016 that federal income taxes are progressive, which reduces after-tax income inequality. For example, the top 1% received approximately 15% of before-tax income but 12% of after-tax income during 2013. Economist Mark Zandi wrote in June 2016 that due to the sizable income tax cuts, "[t]he tax code under Mr. Trump's plan will thus be much less progressive than the current tax code."
In October 2016, after it was revealed that Trump reported $916 million losses during the 1990s, Trump asserted that the 1990s were "one of the most brutal economic downturns in our country's history", "an economic depression" and that the only period coming close it was the Great Depression. Those assertions are false, the Associated Press claimed in a fact check. For instance, the Great Recession, which began in 2007, had lasted far longer and had far worse economic consequences than the recession of the early 1990s, the check reported. Four of Trump's major property holdings declared bankruptcy in 1991 and 1992.
In a February 9, 2009 appearance on Fox News, Trump praised President Obama and his proposed economic stimulus bill, stating, "This is a strong guy knows what he wants, and this is what we need ... I have analyzed the bill as closely as it can be analyzed in this quick a period of time, but he's really got a combination of both [tax relief and spending]."
Trump has repeatedly claimed to have predicted the Great Recession. However, Trump in the years preceding the Great Recession said precisely the opposite, namely that "the economy continues to be fairly robust," "real estate is good all over," "the real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come," "I've been hearing about this bubble for so many years ... but I haven't seen it," and "this boom is going to continue", according to a separate check published by Politico Magazine.
During the 2016 Republican National Convention Trump said, "We're going to work with all of our students who are drowning in debt to take the pressure off these young people just starting out their adult lives". The Trump campaign did not put forth an official higher education plan, reported NASFAA. However, In May 2016 Trump's campaign co-chair, Sam Clovis stated that the ideas being prepared by the campaign included getting government out of student lending; requiring colleges to share in risk of loans; discouraging borrowing by liberal arts majors; and moving the Office of Civil Rights from the Education Department to Justice Department. In an October 2016 speech, Trump said that he favored having student loans repayment capped at 12.5 percent of borrowers' income, with forgiveness of any remaining debt after fifteen years of payments.
Trump has criticized the federal government for earning a profit from federal student loans. Prior to 2010, private banks made most student loans and kept the profits while taxpayers bore the default risk through government guarantees; legislation promoted by President Obama eliminated the banks' role, making the federal government a direct lender that kept the profits for bearing the risk. Trump's campaign stated that all colleges should have "skin in the game" and share the risk associated with student loans. The campaign opposed Hillary Clinton's proposal for debt-free public higher education, Bernie Sanders's plan for free public higher education and President Obama's proposals for a state-federal partnership to make community college free for new high school graduates, citing federal budget concerns.
Trump supports investment in American infrastructure to help create jobs. He wrote in his 2015 book Crippled America that "Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems—our nation's entire infrastructure is crumbling, and we aren't doing anything about it." Trump noted that infrastructure improvements would stimulate economic growth while acknowledging "on the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that." In an October 2015 interview with the Guardian, Trump stated: "We have to spend money on mass transit. We have to fix our airports, fix our roads also in addition to mass transit, but we have to spend a lot of money." In a Republican primary debate in December 2015, Trump said: "We've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people. If we could've spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems—our airports and all of the other problems we've had—we would've been a lot better off."
On the campaign trail, Trump has decried "our airports, our roads, our bridges," likening their state to that of "a Third World country." Trump has on some occasions overstated the proportion of U.S. bridges that are structurally deficient. Unlike many of his Republican opponents, Trump has expressed support for high-speed rail, calling the U.S.'s current rail network inferior to foreign countries' systems.
Trump proposes he would spend $800 to a trillion dollars to repair and improve the nation's infrastructure. His plan to raise said capital, is to create an infrastructure fund that would be supported by government bonds that investors and citizens could purchase, similar to Build America Bonds. This approach aims at harnessing private capital to leverage government spending on infrastructure at federal, state and local level, thus relying on the notion of "infrastructure as an asset class" for private investors initially developed in Northern Europe, Canada and Australia
In a survey conducted by DHI Group in January 2017, a majority of employers don't expect any near-term change in hiring plans due to the recent U.S. Presidential election. Around 12 percent anticipated an increase in hiring due to the incoming Trump administration proposed initiatives to accelerate the economy such as corporate tax reform.
During an economic speech on September 15, 2016, Trump proposed tax cuts, infrastructure investment, reduced regulations, and revised trade agreements which he claimed would create 25 million jobs over ten years. Trump also stated: "Right now, 92 million Americans are on the sidelines, outside the workforce, and not part of our economy. It's a silent nation of jobless Americans." Other politicians and commentators have repeated this assertion after it had been repeatedly debunked; most of the people in the figure do not work by choice or because they cannot work, such as retirees, students, stay-at-home parents and the disabled. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the U.S. was approximately 2.5 million jobs below full employment as of December 2015, primarily as a result of a labor force participation rate among prime working-aged persons (aged 25–54 years) that remains moderately below pre-crisis (2007) levels. The overall labor force participation rate has been falling since 2000, as the country ages.
In December 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the reasons why persons aged 16+ were outside the labor force, using the 2014 figure of 87.4 million: 1) Retired – 38.5 million or 44%; 2) Disabled or Illness – 16.3 million or 19%; 3) Attending school – 16.0 million or 18%; 4) Home responsibilities – 13.5 million or 15%; and 4) Other Reasons – 3.1 million or 5%. As of November 2016, BLS estimated that 90 million of the 95 million people outside the labor force indicated they "do not want a job now."
Trump has repeatedly questioned official employment numbers, suggesting at different times that the actual unemployment rate could be as high as 18–20%, 24% or 42%. Fact-checkers note that these claims are false; the Washington Post fact-checker called them "absurd" and gave them "Four Pinocchios," its lowest rating for truthfulness, while PolitiFact gave the statement its "Pants on Fire" rating, noting that even the broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment was far below Trump's claimed figures. As of August 2016, the unemployment rate (U-3) was 4.7%. A wider measure of unemployment (U-6) that includes those working part-time for economic reasons and marginally attached workers, was 9.7%. The December 2007 (pre-crisis) levels were 5.0% and 8.8% for these two measures, respectively. Upon receiving a positive jobs report in Trump's first full month in office, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, "I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."
In August 2015, in a televised interview, Trump said "Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country." On November 10, 2015, speaking at a Republican debate, Trump said he opposed increasing the U.S. minimum wage, saying that doing so would hurt America's economic competitiveness. At the same debate, Trump said in response to a question about the minimum wage and the economy as a whole: "... taxes too high, wages too high, we're not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is."
On May 5, 2016, two days after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, Trump said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he was "actually looking at" raising the minimum wage, saying, "I'm very different from most Republicans." Three days later, in an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos: "... I haven't decided in terms of numbers. But I think people have to get more." He acknowledged his shift in position since November, saying "Well, sure it's a change. I'm allowed to change. You need flexibility ..."
Later on May 8, on Meet the Press, he said "I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I'd rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide." Asked if the federal government should set a floor (a national minimum wage), Trump replied: "No, I'd rather have the states go out and do what they have to do."
On July 26, 2016, Trump said "There doesn't have to be [a federal minimum wage]," but that "I would leave it and raise it somewhat. You need to help people." Host Bill O'Reilly then asked "Ten bucks?" Trump agreed: "I would say 10. I would say 10." He added "But with the understanding that somebody like me is going to bring back jobs. I don't want people to be in that $10 category for very long. But the thing is, Bill, let the states make the deal."
Unions and right-to-work laws
Trump has frequently spoken in favor of deregulation, and is viewed as likely to oversee an Occupational Safety and Health Administration that conducts "less enforcement and practically no rulemaking" on issues of workplace safety and health.
Other economic topics
Trump supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a $700 billion emergency bailout fund that rescued banks after the subprime mortgage crisis. On September 30, 2008, days before the bailout bill passed, Trump told CNN's Kiran Chetry that he supported the legislation, saying that while the situation was "more complicated than sending rockets to the moon" and nobody was sure what the result would be, it was "worth a shot" and a "probable positive." The following year, when asked by Larry King what he viewed of the Obama administration, Trump stated: "I do agree with what they're doing with the banks. Whether they fund them or nationalize them, it doesn't matter, but you have to keep the banks going."
In February 2009, Trump appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and spoke about the automotive industry crisis of 2008–10. He said that "instead of asking for money", General Motors "should go into bankruptcy and work that stuff out in a deal."
Trump first addressed childcare costs in August 2016, when he proposed allowing parents to "fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes." At the time of the announcement, it was unclear "how such a tax break might be structured, how it would complement existing credits and whether it would be available to tens of millions of families that don't pay income taxes because they have lower incomes." A tax deduction of the kind that Trump proposes (as opposed to a tax credit) would primarily benefit high-income people; families who pay no federal income taxes—the families most likely to be unable to afford child care—would not benefit from this plan.
In September 2016, Trump presented additional details regarding his proposal, which was influenced by his daughter Ivanka Trump. Under Trump's plan, taxpayers who earn up to $250,000 individually or $500,000 as couples would be able to deduct the cost of childcare up to the average cost of childcare in their state, while lower-income families would receive spending rebates up to $1,200 annually through the Earned Income Tax Credit. Under the plan, mothers whose employers don't offer paid maternity leave would receive six weeks of partially paid maternity leave, to be paid for through unemployment insurance. Trump also proposes a new dependent-care savings account, which would be tax-deductible for savings up to $2,000 annually; lower-income families that contribute up to $1,000 would receive a match up to $500 from the federal government.
Trump's plan applies to mothers only, and would not allow families to transfer the benefit from mothers to fathers. Legal scholar Ilya Somin argues that providing maternity leave but not paternity leave would be unconstitutional under Craig v. Boren, in which the Supreme Court held that laws discriminating on the basis of sex are presumptively invalid.
The World Economic Forum announced in October 2018 that America had regained its ranking as the world's most competitive nation for the first time since 2008. The group's Global Competitiveness Report shows that America's ranking fell to #7 in 2012 and increased in subsequent years.
Social welfare programs
As justification for instituting new work requirements to qualify for social welfare programs such as SNAP and Medicaid, in July 2018 the Trump administration asserted that "our War on Poverty is largely over and a success," adding "the safety net—including government tax and (both cash and non-cash) transfer policies—has contributed to a dramatic reduction in poverty (correctly measured) in the United States." As evidence, Trump's Council of Economic Advisers cited a 2017 study by two economists that concluded the 2016 poverty rate was actually 3.0%, rather than the official Census Bureau rate of 12.7%. The Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure, widely regarded by economists as more accurate than the official figure, found the 2016 poverty rate to be 14.0%
Trump released a list of his campaign's official economic advisers in August 2016, which was significantly anti-establishment and therefore included few people with any governmental experience, yet at the same time aimed to include some of the elites of business and finance, primarily people with well-known names. Although most of the names were new, existing Trump advisers David Malpass, Peter Navarro, Stephen Moore, and Dan DiMicco were also on the list, formally led by Stephen Miller, the national policy director, and directly led by deputy policy director Dan Kowalski. The Trump'16 finance director Steven Mnuchin was also listed, and played a role in helping coordinate the group.
Many of the names on the original list, or on the subsequent expansions thereof, received media attention as potential cabinet-level appointees, for instance to the presidential Council of Economic Advisers, or in other Trump administration roles. After the election, Trump became president-elect, and in addition to nominating and appointing advisors to formal statutory roles within the Trump administration, also began working on efforts to directly communicate with business leaders, including those in the tech industry, in the broader business world, and in the agricultural sector.
Trump's cabinet will have no economists after his decision in February 2017 to not include the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in his cabinet. Obama had elevated the chairman position to a cabinet rank during his administration.
Business Advisory Council
In December 2016, Trump put together a group, the 'President's Strategic and Policy Forum', of business leaders to "frequently" advise him on economic matters around policies to encourage job growth and improve productivity. The group is chaired by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who recruited its members including CEOs of General Motors, JPMorgan, and Walmart. Then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, was originally part of the group but resigned a day prior to its first meeting in response to pressure from his employees and customers in the wake of Trump's executive order on immigration. The Business Advisory Council disbanded in August 2017 as a consequence of Trump's comments surrounding the events in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier that month.
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