Joe Biden began his presidency with a promise to advance equity, which entails favoring certain races and ethnicities over others in order to reduce outcome disparities. Like many of his fellow liberal Democrats, Biden believes that black upward mobility will be impossible without government coddling and special treatment. Such claims are complicated by Donald Trump’s track record.
The extent to which black economic fortunes improved during Trump’s presidency is one of the most underreported stories of the Trump presidency. The mainstream media painted Trump as a bigot whose policies would harm racial and ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, black economic advancement was unprecedented not only under Barack Obama, but for several generations — until the pandemic shutdowns halted progress.
During Trump’s first three years in office, blacks (and Hispanics) experienced record-low rates of unemployment and poverty, while wages at the bottom of the income scale rose faster than those in management. I’ll leave it to others to debate whether that was the Trump administration’s intention or an unintended consequence. However, there is no doubt that Trump’s policies have significantly improved the financial situation of millions of working-class black Americans.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Biden claimed credit for the country’s strong economic growth. “Trump inherited from the Obama-Biden administration the longest economic expansion in history,” Biden said in June 2020, adding that Mr. Trump had “turned his back on the middle class” by focusing on corporate tax cuts.
By the end of 2016, Treasury, Federal Reserve, and Congressional Budget Office officials agreed that the economy had essentially reached full employment and couldn’t grow any faster. In 2016, Obama’s final year in office, economic growth fell to 1.6 percent from 3.1 percent in 2015. Over the course of a single year, the rate at which the economy expanded fell by nearly half.
Trump inherited a slowing US economy, and there was widespread concern about another recession. Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton and Director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama, predicted that the economy would enter a recession within a year. The Fed forecasted that unemployment would remain between 4.4 percent and 4.9 percent in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and that economic growth would remain between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent.
Instead, job growth has accelerated, unemployment has continued to fall, and economic growth has improved. In early 2017, the new president began enacting the promises he made during the campaign: lower taxes and less regulation. He appointed Kevin Hassett to lead the Council of Economic Advisers, who had published research demonstrating how corporate taxes reduce wages for manufacturing workers. He urged Congress to lower the corporate profit tax rate, which was one of the highest in the developed world at 35%.
Between 2017 and 2019, blacks’ median household income increased by 15.4 percent while whites’ increased by only 11.5 percent. In March 2019, Goldman Sachs published a paper demonstrating that pay at the bottom of the wage distribution is rising at nearly twice the rate of pay at the top. Average hourly earnings were increasing at rates not seen in nearly a decade, but what “sets this rise apart is that it’s the first time during the economic recovery that began in mid-2009 that the bottom half of earners is benefiting more than the top half — in fact, about twice as much,” according to reports.
The story of black economic advancement during the Trump years deserves to be told more widely. Liberals argue that wealth redistribution and racial preferences are the best ways to promote upward mobility; however, the previous administration’s emphasis on economic growth had a far greater positive impact on the lives of millions of working-class Americans, a disproportionate number of whom were black. Racial inequality shrank under Trump’s watch, and much of the media was too busy railing against him to notice or give credit where credit was due.