As Donald Trump took over the reins of power in Washington on Friday promising to make America great again, it’s worth noting where things actually stand with the economy as President Obama leaves office.
William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO in Washington, was in Raleigh last week to talk about the economy and the bar that Obama has set for Trump.
Here are a few highlights.
— The nation is enjoying the longest run of consecutive months of job growth in recorded history, adding jobs for 75 months in a row from October 2010 until December 2016.
— The overwhelming majority of the jobs created have been full-time jobs, not part time positions as some have claimed.
— Wages are rising too and much faster than during the last five economic recoveries dating back to the 1970s. Participation in the overall labor market has returned to pre-recession levels ,including discouraged workers and folks who were forced to work part-time because they couldn’t find a full time job.
— The unemployment rate is also back to where it was before the recession began for all racial and ethnic groups. That has led to broad income growth, especially for families who earn at or below the median income level.
There are still problems of course, primarily the vast inequality that can be traced back to the 1970s when wages stopped increasing at the same rate as productivity. People are working harder but not being rewarded for their increased productivity.
Obama didn’t fix that 50-year-old problem in his eight years in office but he did lead the nation out of the worst economic crisis in 75 years and helped millions of people get back to work.
America can always be greater but Obama certainly made the economy work again for many people.
Now it’s up to President Trump to improve on that record and he takes office with the lowest approval rating for a new president in recent history. A Fox News Poll found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump as he begins his administration while 54 percent do not.
Eighty percent of Americans approved of President Obama in 2009 as he prepared to be sworn in.
Speaking of polls, the latest survey from the folks at Public Policy Polling has some good news for Gov. Roy Cooper with 45 percent of the people approving of the job he is doing with 34 percent disapproving.
A few other notes from the PPP poll. HB2 remains unpopular, with 50 percent of voters opposing it while 32 percent support it.
And all the efforts by legislative leaders to somehow blame Cooper or the city of Charlotte for the failure of lawmakers to repeal HB2 in last month’s special session aren’t working. Seventy-three percent of voters blame the General Assembly for not repealing the law.
And finally, voters support Cooper’s proposal to expand Medicaid in North Carolina by a margin of 63 percent to 25.
And it’s not just PPP finding strong support for Medicaid. The latest results of a poll on the right-wing Civitas Institute’s website shows people support Medicaid expansion 98 percent to 2 percent who are opposed.
That can’t be going over very well in the Civitas halls.
And speaking of HB2, Republican lawmakers in Virginia seemed to have learned from North Carolina’s troubles thanks to the passage of the anti-LGBT law.
A similar bill introduced in the Virginia House was voted down by Republicans in a committee last week with only one dissenting vote after the state’s business community spoke out against it.
It’s a reminder not only that HB2 is bad legislation but that our state’s business community needs to play a much bigger role in getting it repealed.
Virginia’s lawmakers were smart enough not to demonize a group of people and damage their state’s economy. North Carolina lawmakers are still allowing both things happen here.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.