Depending on what TV channel you favor, you might think our economic glass is half full and draining fast, or you might think the glass is the biggest glass ever and it’s never been fuller.
Reality can be found somewhere between these two visions by focusing on real numbers and statistics. Here’s a look at some key indicators:
Jobs and employment
The nation’s unemployment rate in September hit its lowest mark since 1969, which is good news.
The numbers released by the federal Department of Labor showed U.S. companies added 136,000 jobs last month, which is fewer than many economists had anticipated.
Here’s how a piece in USA Today explained it:
“Two main factors are crimping job gains. The low unemployment rate has made it tougher for businesses to find workers. And the economy has slowed as the effects of federal tax cuts and spending increases peter out and the trade war dents business confidence and investment.”
President Donald Trump two years ago predicted the nation’s economy would grow 4, 5 or even 6 percent a year because of his leadership and the GOP tax cuts passed in late 2017.
Instead, the economy grew 2.9 percent in 2018. And this year’s growth seems to be slowing.
GDP growth in the first three months of 2019 was tagged at 3.1 percent, but fell to 2.0 percent in the second quarter, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, economists predict, it’s likely to sink lower.
GDP numbers are what determine a recession. If the economy shrinks in two consecutive quarters, it’s technically an economic recession. Some recessions are relatively short and mild. The last U.S. recession started in late 2007 and was long and hard, lasting 18 months.
Costs for food, gas and other things we need or want continue to rise modestly. This has been true for about a decade. This good news for Americans generally is overlooked.
Foreign and agricultural trade
For Kansas, global markets are important — to sell planes, grains and other crops, beef and related goods, aviation-related products and services, ag-related machinery and a variety of other goods.
Kansas has suffered under current trade policy, which focuses on threats and tariffs. Trump promised tariffs would help the United States reduce and eventually eliminate trade deficits.
Instead, the U.S. trade deficit is higher than it was a year ago, and it’s higher than it was two years ago. According to federal data released earlier this month, total exports through August had declined, compared to the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, imports were up.
For farm products, the August data show a 6 percent drop in exports this year, compared to last year.
Deficits and debt
The federal government’s fiscal year ended Sept. 30, with the government spending $984 billion more than it collected.
The astounding 26 percent, annual increase in the deficit has been met with silence from most conservatives, who loudly insisted on fiscal restraint under Democrat President Barack Obama.
Even as warnings sound that annual deficits will continue to grow, adding to the nation’s mountainous debt, neither Republicans nor Democrats have offered feasible proposals to address the problem.
As campaigns gear up, we’re hearing lots about big-spending socialists and heartless capitalists. Coming months will bring lots more twaddle and attempts to frighten voters. For a candid, unbiased reality check, check the numbers.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.