The final jobs report for 2016 was released last week by the Department of Labour. The result was favourable for the month of December and the year. The U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs in December, and just over 2 million jobs in 2016. Some economists had predicted a rise of 183,000 jobs for the month, so the numbers were slightly lower than that, but still positive. The unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.7% from 4.6% at the end of November. Still, it is lower than the ‘pre-recession’ rate of 4.8%, and a significant improvement over the 9.3% when President Obama took office in 2009.
“For most of the year, the unemployment rate has been hovering just under 5 percent, the lowest levels since 2007. Although the pace of employment growth in 2016 slowed compared to 2014 and 2015—the height of the economic recovery—last year’s numbers put outgoing President Barack Obama ahead of George W. Bush (but behind Bill Clinton) when it comes to job creation.
In 2009, when Obama took office, the U.S. labor market was facing record-high unemployment—the highest since the early 1980s recession—and job losses due to the financial crisis. In January of 2009—the month Obama was inaugurated—the American economy lost 791,000 jobs. Now—eight years later—the U.S. has experienced 75 consecutive months of job growth (emphasis added).” – Bourree Lam, The Atlantic, 06 January 2017
Nonetheless, Trump has consistently stated that, “Our jobs are fleeing the country,” and “Our country’s in deep trouble.” While I am past critiquing his rhetoric, and that is all this is, I see danger in the fact that he is primed to destroy the strongest economy we have had since the financial crisis began in 2008, under President George W. Bush. He will inherit a strong economy, but how long can he keep it strong? Especially considering that the holiday shopping season was underwhelming for major retailers, including Macy’s, Sears and Kohls, all of whom have already announced plans for store closures and job cuts in the near future.
Last month, Trump chose Andrew F. Puzder as Secretary of Labour under his regime. Like Trump’s other nominees, Puzder is a Trump-a-like, a wealthy businessman and political donor and has a long record of promoting a conservative agenda that takes aim at President Obama’s legacy. Some specifics that concern me about Puzder:
- He has argued that the Obama administration’s recent rule expanding eligibility for overtime pay diminishes opportunities for workers.
- He is against raising minimum wage, arguing that significant minimum wage increases would hurt small businesses and lead to job losses.
- He has criticized paid sick leave policies.
- He strongly supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, which he says has created a “government-mandated restaurant recession” because rising premiums have left people with less money to spend dining out. (Excuse me, but if people are dead because they could not get medical care, they cannot dine out anyway)
- He said that increased automation could be a welcome development because machines were “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
A lesser issue, but nonetheless telling of the man’s values are the advertisements by his company, CKE Restaurants, which typically feature nearly naked women making suggestive gestures. “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” Again, Trump-a-like.
Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said Mr. Puzder was “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.”
The duties of the Secretary of Labour are to oversee the department responsible for investigation reports of violations of minimum wage, overtime and worker safety laws and regulations. Puzder’s company owns fast food restaurants, including Hardees and Carl’s Jr. stores, both of which have been investigated by the Department of Labour and in some cases fined or ordered to pay back wages. Such are not uncommon in the industry, but I still find it indicative of a less than stellar reputation in the area of worker’s rights.
I am no economist, but this much I know: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The number of jobs in the nation has been increasing and improving for the past seven years, and Trump’s economic policies seem to me destined to slow, stop, or even reverse that trend. However, as he wears blinders and is focused intently on reversing anything and everything that President Obama has done, I shudder to think what he and Puzder might do to our economy. The repeal of ACA (Obamacare) alone is estimated to cost the U.S. some 3 million jobs.
Admittedly, this is a rather simplistic view, as jobs are only one part of the economic equation, and I have not mentioned average household income, or the trade deficit, which jumped in December. Both of those topics, however, are for another post. However, jobs are the part of the economy that the average working person cares most about, can relate to very personally, and can understand. Trade deficits are rather a vague concept to most, and they will not much care one way or another as long as they have a decent-paying job. Cynical? Yes, but also realistic.
Once again, as with so many others, I am convinced that Trump has picked the wrong man for the job. But what do I know?