Kitchen Table Issues and the 2020 Presidential Election

Stephen Herzenberg |

There has been a lot of discussion about character issues in this election. But kitchen table issues are likely to be decisive. That raises two questions: how have the past four years been for typical families’ economic well-being? And what policies would serve working families looking forward?

Four years ago, President Trump won support by talking about how much the economy was rigged against working families.

In office, the president continued to highlight trade, manufacturing, and immigration issues—for which many supporters give him credit.

But actions speak louder than words: so, let’s look at some of the Trump administration’s actions.

The president and Republicans in Washington did not increase the federal minimum wage, even though Democrats in the U.S. House passed a hike to $15 per hour by 2024. This inaction most hurt the women and people of color that predominate in low-wage jobs. It hurt them more in states like Pennsylvania where Republican state House majorities failed to increase the minimum wage.

The Trump administration chose not to help millions of lower-paid salaried workers get automatic overtime pay. As a result, department stores, fast food restaurants, bank branches, doctors’ offices, colleges, and other non-profits still exploit employees earning as little as $36,000 per year, working them 50-60 hours per week for as little as $12 per hour. Meanwhile top executives and college presidents pocket hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars each year. The failure to extend automatic overtime to more salaried workers hurts all demographic groups.

The president’s National Labor Relations Board appointments made it harder for workers to form unions. The president’s Supreme Court nominations are an anti-worker time bomb, likely to lean in for corporate power and against workers for as much as 30+ years. (Amy Coney Barrett is 48.)

The Trump U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) made it easier for companies to classify workers as independent contractors, denying them access to benefits, the minimum wage, overtime pay, health and safety protections, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. This lowered compensation for many construction workers and truck drivers—mostly white men in Pennsylvania.

The USDOL also made it legal again for financial advisors to recommend bad investments so that they can receive commissions or other kickbacks. This harms workers with 401(k)s—their inadequate nest eggs will grow more slowly because of hidden fees and paltry returns, with high-income financial services professionals making more money.

The Trump administration’s signature tax bill, meanwhile, benefitted overwhelmingly the 5% and 1%.

Get the picture? The Trump administration’s actions rigged the economy even more against working people—no matter the color of their skin, their gender, or their identity, but very much based on the size of their checkbook. If you are not a high roller, you got rolled.

Even on manufacturing and trade, the Trump administration accomplished little. In manufacturing, the Great Lakes states, including Pennsylvania, did not see significant job growth. On trade, Trump’s new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contains auto industry provisions that are strong on paper. But they won’t increase jobs or wages in the U.S. because automakers already meet these requirements. Very clever.

Looking forward, President Trump is campaigning on the idea that his second term will deliver an economic boom. If you believe that after the past four years, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Depression in a second Trump term is more likely. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of Republican economists like Mark Zandi, John McCain’s former economic advisor, and Jerome Powell, Trump’s appointment as Federal Reserve Board chair. Zandi and Powell know the U.S. economy has lost 10.7 million jobs since February (and Pennsylvania over half a million). They warn that without more fiscal stimulus our economy could descend into a dark vicious cycle.

The status quo of Trump as president and Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader has proved unable to agree on the additional economic stimulus that Zandi and Powell have known we need since May. Without the pressure of an election, Trump and McConnell are not more likely to agree to sufficient stimulus after November 3.

So, here’s what we can predict from another Trump term: four more years of trying to take more from most people’s kitchen tables—and the potential for a plunge into a lengthy depression.

Fool me once, shame on me…