On Economic Policy, It’s Not What President Trump Says, It’s What He Does That Matters

Stephen Herzenberg |

The piece below originally ran in the York Dispatch here. We’ve reposted it with a few hyperlinks.

In 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump won significant support by arguing that the “whole economy” is “rigged” against typical American workers. Many people understood this to mean he would make the economy less rigged against regular workers once he took office. Nearly three years into his first term, however, most of what he has done has tilted the economy further against regular people.

The list of actions that the president and his appointees have taken to lower workers’ wages and families’ incomes is long, so bear with me.

They’ve made it harder for workers to organize unions, including tens of thousands of Uber drivers. They’ve made it easier for large fast-food companies to escape any responsibility when their franchises violate minimum wage, overtime, and other labor laws. And they’ve made it easier for employers to escape existing unions and make unilateral changes without consulting the union.

The president refused to defend a 2016 change to give more salaried employees overtime pay. (While many people don’t know this, employers can’t take away a right to overtime pay just by calling someone salaried—nearly two-thirds of U.S. salaried workers once received overtime pay.) This refusal eliminated, or made less enforceable, a right to overtime pay and the 40-hour work week for more than eight million hard-working U.S. salaried employees, including 310,000 in Pennsylvania. These are your neighbors who open the coffee shop at six in the morning or close the department store at 9 p.m., and who work 50 or more hours for as little as $12 or $13 per hour—and without a dime of overtime pay.

In October, the Trump administration announced a new rule that will make it possible to pay more employees the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour ($2.83 in PA) instead of the regular minimum wage of $7.25 per hour—lowering the wages of workers already paid poorly in most cases by another $700 million.

And one of the first things the Trump administration did, in June 2017, was to get rid of a rule that required financial advisers to act in the best interests of consumers. This restored a status quo that allows financial advisers to guide people to low-performing investments because they give the adviser a kickback…I mean commission. Legalized deception and a redistribution of money from Jill and Joe Six-pack to the financial sector—just what America needs.

Then there’s the jewel in the president’s crown—his tax cut. Here’s a surprise: more than two thirds of the benefits of the tax cut go to the richest 1%, most of whom don’t live in York County. In the short run, the Trump tax cut contributed to sustaining the economic recovery. In the long run, unless reversed, that tax cut will force deep cuts in the programs that the 99% count on—you know, health care, food assistance, education, social security.

So far, continued economic expansion—at a rate below the average for the six years before 2017—has masked President Trump’s steroid injections into our economy for the 1%. So has the Trump Administration’s impressive message discipline—taking credit for anything good that happens and taking credit even when nothing good has happened.

Anecdotes about the growth of manufacturing jobs are particularly common even though overall manufacturing job growth has been modest (about 1.8% per year in York County, lower in Pennsylvania and nationally). Adjusted for inflation, average manufacturing weekly wages have not increased at all since 2016—in the U.S., in Pennsylvania, or in York.

The president does deserve some credit for the new trade deal with Mexico—although even this is more hat than cattle. Provisions that on paper require more auto production in the United States and more North American auto workers to be paid at least $15 per hour are set at levels that automakers already meet—which means they will make no difference.

A friend of mine once said about another American political figure, “I love what you say, it’s what you do I can’t stand.” While President Trump says many things I don’t love, when it comes to the economy, I am something of a sucker for his populist rhetoric.

But when you look closely at President Trump’s actions on the economy, it’s not pretty—he keeps stacking the deck against regular folks even more. The working people of York County would do well to look closely at those actions and to remember—fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.