President Trump by the Numbers
I moved the charts and tables from my Anthology of President Trump in order to unclutter that hub and consolidate my analysis of the State of TrumpAmerica in one place.
How Do We Stand Today?
Below is what is called a stoplight chart. It is intended depict in one place an easy to read picture of the status of a complex set of data; in this case Trump's America. Beside each measure, e.g. GDP, are a pair of colored circles ... the stoplights.
Below is a stoplight chart for the end of President Obama's term of office. This is what the charts tell me about the state of America at that point in time. The colored circles represent the "goodness" of that measure. For example:
- Food Stamp Use is Yellow (poor). While food stamp use declined considerably after the Great Recession of 2008 during President Obama's term in office, it was (and still is) way above historic norms.
- On the other hand, the Unemployment Rate is Blue (great) because at 4.8%, the economy is near or at full employment and is below what is normal.
- Finally, the National Debt is Red (terrible) because, even though the huge increase in debt was the direct result of 1) the cumulative effect of President Bush's tax cuts and the cost of his wars, 2) automatic economic stabilization measures that kicked in with the recession, and 3) the measures President Obama was forced to take to avert a depression, it is nevertheless historically high.
You will see I take a slightly different approach when we get to President Trump's stoplight chart.
Where Things Stood at the Beginning Of Trump's Presidency
President Trump's Stoplight Chart
We use this management tool a little differently in assessing how President Trump is doing. Instead of looking at how he is doing overall at single points in time, we consider how he is doing relative to how President Obama did. Why this way? Because President Trump and his supporters have made it very clear in words and deeds that they are measuring themselves to Obama's legacy.
Consequently, I organized this chart thusly. There are two sets of stoplights. Both measure whether he is doing better or worse than President Obama for each metric. The one on the left depicts how things stand about ten months into President Trumps term. The right stoplight is how it is now.1 The difference between the two colors tells you where that particular attribute is heading. The totality of color changes (or lack thereof) gives you a good idea how President Trump is doing overall when compared to President Obama's ending position.
For example, take the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I have it rated Blue because Trump is doing much better at the moment than where Obama left it. Likewise, GDP is rated Green because the trajectory of GDP growth has not changed very much between the two administrations. Auto sales are Yellow because they are a little worse than what Obama gave him. Finally, Uninsured Rates is Red because all the turmoil surrounding Obamacare has noticeably increased the number of uninsured Americans.
1 As I wrote this, "now" and "then" are the same date, which is why, if you are looking at this in December 2017, the two sets of stoplights are the same.
Stoplight Chart on Trump's America
A Little History
To put things in perspective, a little historical context is always helpful. This next series of charts provide a look at Public Debt, Debt to GDP ratio, GDP and Per Capita GDP over various periods of time starting with a look at the entire history of the United States.
The first set of charts provide a look at Public Debt as well as the more meaningful Public Debt to GDP Ratio. The reason for the second metric is that it is not very often that a raw number (Public Debt) has any meaning by itself. It is just a number such as the Right throwing around 20 Trillion Dollars as if that was a terrible thing. Well it may be or it may not be. And you won't know until you measure it against some other related metric(s); in this case GDP and Time.
Until you know the size of the economy can you gauge whether $20 trillion is large or small. Because GDP is also around $20 trillion then you can start getting the feeling that the current public debt is pretty big indeed, since it is around 100% of GDP (in other words, it would take the entire American economy to pay off what America owes to itself and others).
Even here, you still don't know if this is situation is "normal" or not until you see what it was in previous years. Again, you can see it is at an all time high (save for WW II). The final piece of context that is helpful is looking back in history at other periods where the Debt-GDP ration was this high and judge if the times were good or bad then. We can't do that here because this is a unique situation in a peace-time economy. So, my conclusion in this case is having a debt this high is not good for economic health.
This next set of charts looks at Debt and Debt-GDP ration in more detail by taking shorter snapshots in time. Here to add context I show some major events that drove changes to public debt. Then, by looking at an even short time frame, we can analyzed public debt in yet another way - by seeing how it changed from administration to administration and comparing it to the rhetoric of the day.
In that last regard, much has been made of how much President Obama has driven up public debt. Well, you can see from Chart PD-3, that is not really the case because after you get past the terrible effects of the Great 2008 Recession (Obama took office in 2009 and was able to have direct influence on the 2010 budgets and beyond), you see that Obama, at 2.7%, has the second lowest rate of debt growth of the four presidents before him. So when you hear the hyperbolic rhetoric on this subject, you now know what the truth is.
The Scariest Chart You Will Ever See
Chart POP-1 is a bombshell for anybody who cares about a growing American economy. It says that if something doesn't change regarding population growth then the future for sustained economic growth is bleak. And, that is not the hyperbole mentioned above.
It is a simple chart for sure, just one line heading south, but what a line it is!! You see, as I explain in other hubs, economic growth is intimately intertwined with population growth (plus productivity growth). In the mid- to long-term, economic (GDP) growth is basically equal to the population growth rate plus the productivity growth rate.1 It is no more complicated than that.
Yes, in the short-term other factors hold sway which cause monthly, quarterly, and yearly variations in GDP; things like the business cycle and inflation. But after they run their course, what happens with population (creates demand) and productivity (ability to satisfy the demand) take over control.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of why, what must happen to keep the population stable, not increasing or decreasing (like Russia is) is that, on average, each female must produce two offspring during her lifetime in order to replace her and the father. If that doesn't happen, then population (and therefore demand) must decrease over time. Consequently, in order to grow the population one of two things must happen (or a combination of the two); 1) more than two offspring must be produced and/or 2) immigrants (it doesn't make any difference which type) must come into the country. There is no other way.
Look at the note in the middle of the chart pointing to line at about the 2009 point. It is in this period when native born births fell below the replacement level or 2.08 births per woman. Therefore, it was here when immigration became critical to a growing population because immigration is necessary to replace the babies that aren't being born in sufficient numbers. To put it bluntly, around 2009, the US population started falling. The only reason it is growing now is all the immigrants that arrive and stay in America. Yet that is exactly what President Trump and many other conservatives are trying to stop from happening.
The reason I introduced you to this is to use it to keep everything else that follows in context.
1 Today that would be .72% plus 1.2% = 1.97% predicted annual long-term growth. Since the Great 2008 Recession the economy has grown at roughly 2%. For comparison, population growth for the 1990s was around 1.2% and productivity growth was 2.2%. So GDP growth should be around 3.4%. In fact, it was about 3.8%.
Population Growth Rate - The Key to Economic Growth.
Let's look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is explained a little later. But just let me say it is a 20,000 foot view of how well the economy is doing. If it is growing, the economy is good, if it is flat, then the economy is under-performing, and if it is decreasing, the economy is in recession. The first chart looks at the whole history of GDP, from 1794 to 2017. In this, and the charts that follow showing finer and finer detail of GDP, I suspect most of you are in for a shock.
The most popular myth held by our conservative friends is that the economy was much better, relatively speaking, than it is today. If you believe that, get ready to have your bubble burst. You see, included on each chart are the major recessions, depressions, and panics that have marred our growth and caused unimaginable suffering and hardship on all but the wealthy Americans.
The bottom line is that after the Great Depression of 1929 until the Great Recession of 2008, the quantity and severity of recessions are small by comparison to what came before it. Before 1929, it seems that every time you turned around, America was in another major economic downturn. It is rather "depressing" when you think how one side of the political spectrum paints what is really pretty good times.
Trump by the Numbers
The following set of charts and graphs will describe the ups and downs of Trump's America over the length of his term. He has made many promises regarding how well various sectors of the economy will do, e.g., huge increases in coal jobs.
What this hub is about then is presenting and discussing data that tells us how well he is reaching his goals. Almost all of the data comes from official government sources although a few things such as consumer sentiment come from non-government but nevertheless industry-trusted reports. The sources will be provided.
The charts and graphs will be organized in what I hope are logical groups, starting with Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a general measure of the health of the economy, Included with the GDP are other related measures that provide more insight.
Gross Domestic Product
The most common indicator of economic health is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and how it is changing over time. The GDP measures the value of all of the services and end products manufactured in the US. It may seem so, but not coincidentally, this is the same value of all of the wages and taxes paid plus profit earned in the US.
GDP is related to recessions (and depressions) in that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) uses it to determine when the economy is in recession. As a rule-of-thumb if GDP goes negative for two quarters in a row, the economy is in a recession. So Chart GDP-1 is our first gross indicator of Trump's America because we have three quarters under Trump's leadership.
What do we see? Basically no change (therefore a Green stoplight) from the path President Obama charted although if the last two quarters continues (over 3% in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters), he may soon be outperforming Obama.
The next level of detail is look beneath the gross GDP numbers. The GDP is calculated by adding the value of:
- Consumer Spending
- Business Investment
- Government Spending
- Exports minus Imports (trade balance)
These components are do not necessarily work together. For the longest time, the trade balance has been negative, meaning it has a depressing effect on GDP. Much is made in today's rhetoric about how bad it is to have a negative trade balance. If fact, as you will see graphically, net trade plays almost no role in determining GDP because it accounts for roughly -3% of total GDP.
It should be a surprise to no one that Consumer Spending accounts for the lion's share of GDP, about 69%. What probably is surprising is that Government Spending is as important as Business Investment, about 17% each.1
It should be easy to tell from Chart GDP-2 below why President Obama's stimulus was needed. If you look at 2007 you should noticed that Consumer Spending and Business started declining while Government Spending and Net Exports improved. You might also notice that the increase in Government Spending (the Stimulus) is about equal to the decrease in Consumer Spending. That was the point of the stimulus, to replace depressed consumer spending with government spending until the consumer spending took off again.
What made this recession drag on so long wasn't President Obama's fiscal policy, but businesses deciding not to invest; in past recessions, business picked up pretty quickly. In this recession, it took consumer spending only 2 years to get back to pre-recession levels, it took business investment an astounding five years just to get back to 2008 levels. If I showed you a graph of corporate cash reserves, which were and still are huge, you would see the explanation of why business took so long to get back on track.
1 Of course this busts another myth that government spending plays no part in economic growth.
The federal deficit is another common measure of how things are going. The deficit is simply the difference between how much money the government gets in and spends. If income exceeds spending, then the "deficit" is a surplus, a very rare occurrence (the last time was in 2000 under President Clinton). More often, spending exceeds income then it really is a deficit. To make up the difference, the government borrows money which is called the National Debt; which today exceeds $20 trillion, a historically high number.
Chart GDP-3 looks at the federal deficit through the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, plus the first three quarters of Trump's. This period of time is unique in the it shows a budget surplus and the effects from an economy that almost fell into a world-wide depression, the worst in history.
If you extend the timeline back to 1980 you will see that average deficit was about $300 million in 2009$. Prior to that it was running around $100 million.
The explanation for the huge spike in 2009-2010 is the 2008 Recession. Much of that spike is the result of automatic stabilization payments (e.g., unemployment benefits) that kick in when the economy tanks. The remainder comes from the Obama stimulus program that replaced depressed consumer spending with more government spending; it worked.
It is also of interest (Chart GDP-4), given today's political rhetoric, that using a little more meaningful metric, Deficit as a percentage of GDP, President Obama is doing quite well when compared to the conservative gold standard, President Reagan.
It was known that the deficit will increase starting in 2016, partly due to higher interest payments brought on by that spike. As you can see, they continue into Trump's administration. Most economists think that the 2018 GOP tax plan will sharply drive up the deficit beginning in 2019. Only time will tell.
We will consider two of these. One is Real Median Household Income and the other is Real Disposable Income: Per Capita. The former tracks gross income for the average household and the latter considers average per person disposable (after tax) income.
They both give the reader an idea of the overall standard of living with in America. The theory being, the greater the income, especially after tax income, the more there is to spend on finer things in life.
This first chart looks at Median Household Income,
What is Real Disposable Income-Per Capita really mean (Chart INC - 2)? Let me offer a definition I found on-line that is much more understandable than any I could come up with. In part:
"Personal income in the U.S. consists of all income that is received by U.S. residents in a given year, originating from all sources. Thus personal income is the sum of wage and salary disbursements, other labor income, proprietor's income (rental income), dividend and interest income, and transfer payments to individuals (welfare, unemployment insurance, etc).
Disposable personal income is the portion of personal income that is left after personal taxes are subtracted, and thus is the amount of personal income available to people for consumption spending and saving.
Per capita disposable personal income is found by dividing a country's total disposable personal income by its population.
Finally, real per-capita disposable personal income is found by adjusting per-capita disposable personal income for inflation.
Changes in real per-capita disposable personal income over time indicates trend in a country's material standard of living. Real per-capita disposable income will usually rise when economic growth rates exceed population growth rates[, like it is in the US].
Real per-capita income tends to follow the business cycle, rising in the peaks and falling in the troughs. The greater percentage of real per-capita income in most countries is used for consumption spending rather than saving ...
All else equal, a rise in consumer confidence will tend to increase the percentage of real per-capita income that is allocated to consumption, and decrease the percentage allocated to saving."1
Another term you may see is "Discretionary Income". This is Disposable Income less all of the necessities of life are subtracted, e.g. rent, insurance, alimony, food, etc.2
So what is Chart INC - 2 currently telling us? First, look at each of the yellow triangles which represent a recession. In each case it appears growth in disposable income slowed or declined. Also notice that growth was somewhat better during Democratic administrations - until you get to President Obama's presidency. In 2012, disposable income growth goes into reverse for a quarter; this coincides with a marked slowdown in the economy in the same quarter. The other factor leading to what is an atypical growth record is that unlike all previous recession recoveries, increased GDP and job growth did NOT translate in to income growth for the working class. Instead, the upper class was the only income group to benefit from the growth in America's economy.
President Trump's first year record is on the low end of Republican administrations, but, since at first glance, it looks like growth might be flattening out, it remains to be seen if that can be maintained.
1 Courtesy of https://www.swlearning.com/economics/econ_data/percap_income/percap_income_definition.html ©2004 South-Western. All Rights Reserved DISCLAIMER
2 Since the government does not track what I think is a very important metric, one must rely on 3rd party sources. If you are interested try this one from Motley Fool
Another set of measures that tests a different segment of the economy is employment, or more specifically, unemployment numbers. These numbers represent where the rubber meets the road, people. People supply the demand and people supply the workforce to satisfy that demand. It would seem then, how well people are able to create demand becomes very important to the economy as a whole. And what do they have to have to satisfy their demand, a job of course. Therefore, employment and unemployment statistics come to front of the class.
Let's start with an overarching metric of how many work eligible adults are willing to work. This measure is called the Participation Rate (Chart EMP - 1), a number one side of the political debate tried to bash President Obama over the head with to show how poorly he was doing. Actually, as we will see, they were wrong.
The historical Participation Rate (PR) has quite a story to tell including how this nation thought about women. First, consider all of the yellow triangles, they mark the various recessions that have occurred since WW II.1 You should notice that the PR either flattens out or declines during most, but not all, recessions. Another thing that should be obvious is from 1948 until the late 1960s, the PR remained relatively constant and at, by today's standard, low. What happened in the early 1970s? Women joined the workforce (before 1948, they weren't even counted). More and more women joined which explains most of the increase.
But starting in 2000, other demographic changes (we are getting older folks) have taken over. Recent analysis has demonstrated that changes in demographics (gender, age, etc) are the main driving factors for the downward changes in PR and not the forces behind changes in unemployment.
The next chart, Chart EMP - 2, consists of three metrics, the Participation Rate, which we have already discussed, the Unemployment Rate, and the U-6 Rate. Next. let's consider what is thought of as an "alternative measure". Many people the "official" unemployment rate (U-3) doesn't tell the whole story, that it is missing many people who have stopped looking for work. That is what the U-6 does.
The U-6 adds to the official unemployment definition all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons. If you look at the two metrics, U-3 and U-6, in Chart EMP - 2 you should see that the two lines mimic each other, the only difference is one of magnitude. Eye-balling the chart would appear to show that the U-6 runs roughly 4 percentage points higher than the U-3, consistently over time. That is why it is sort of pointless to use both metrics since you can draw the same conclusions from each. That is why most people use only the U-3. Nevertheless, if you like the more inclusive U-6, it is there for your use.
What does the official (U-3) unemployment (UE) rate figure tell us? The first thing it tells us is that average unemployment, at least since Reagan, has run at about 5%, which most economists consider "full employment"1. We also see that as President Obama left office, the UE rate fell to lows seen in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Since Trump took office, UE has fallen to 4.1% from.7%. Job growth, on the other hand, is still good but nevertheless somewhat lower than the previous administration.
(this may be more detail than you can bear)
For those who enjoy analytical pain, Chart EMP - 3 is right up your alley. It provides you a look at the trends of all of the measures that make up the employment picture.2 The percentages are the growth (or decline) in that measure. The ones in the center are for President Obama and the others are for President Trump.
Now, one needs definitions if one can understand what they are seeing, so here they are:
- Civilian Non-institutional Population - Individuals, 16 years or older who are not in the Armed Services or are not in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, or nursing homes, (not on Chart EMP - 3)
- Civilian Labor Force - Individuals, 16 years or older who are not in the Armed Services or are not in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, or nursing homes, who are employed or unemployed and actively seeking work.
- Employment Level - Persons in the Civilian Labor Force during the reference time period that did any work at all as paid employees; worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family.
- Full-Time (FT) - Persons who work 35 hours or more per week.
- Not in Labor Force - Persons in the Civilian Labor Force who are neither employed nor unemployed due to lack of desire or lack of availability (e.g. in school)
- Part-Time (PT) - Persons who work less than 35 hours per week.
- Willing (Marginally Attached) - Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for work, and who have looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. Discouraged workers are a subset of the marginally attached.
- Discouraged - Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking because they believe there are no jobs available or there are none for which they would qualify.
I know there are a lot of numbers on this very busy chart but the story is in each set of three horizontal numbers which represent each president's result for that measure. For example, the top line traces changes in the Civilian non-Institutional Population (CniP), i.e. the set of people, 16 and over, who could work if they wanted to. Also, it makes a good surrogate for population growth overall. We see that CnIP growth is slowly decreasing over time from 1.16%/yr during the Bush administration to 0.4%/yr in Trump's first year (that will probably grow some over the next three years).
That is not good news on two counts. First, it implies the overall population growth is slowing which, in turn, puts downward pressure on GDP growth. Second, using the same logic a slowing CnIP growth rate also suggests a couple of things; 1) inflation as employers vie for fewer employees and 2) less output if the labor pool for workers shrink too much.
The first numbers that reflect current and short-term economic health is what is happening to the labor pool (those people willing to work). You can see that the difference between the Bush and Obama administration reflects the fact that most of the decrease in Civilian Labor Force occurred right after Obama assumed office even though the causes for it happened months earlier. Trump's .55% increase results from inheriting a growing economy.
The same dynamic can be seen with the Employment Level, Full-Time Employment, and Not In Labor Force numbers. The Part-Time numbers, while looking a little different still reflect a declining and then improving economy. This includes the decrease in Part-Time Employment growth which reflects the switch from part-time to full-time.
Of interest is the bottom two measures, Marginally Employed (ME). Marginally employed persons are those who are Willing to work full-time but are working part-time for economic reasons (not shown) or are Discouraged but still looking (the latter two are subsets of ME). Now ME is acting as you would think it would, after the initial plunge into a deep recession, those figures are decreasing as the economy recovers.
But consider the fact that Discouraged workers are increasing during the first year of the Trump administration. That is something to watch as, in isolation, it is not a good sign for future economic growth. Why? Because it says the number of people who are unemployed but haven't found work in a while. While one year doesn't make a trend, it is in agreement with a metric we will consider next.
1 Theoretically "full employment" is that point where employers start competing for labor and driving wages up.
2 These totals are not adjusted for population growth. So please keep in mind when considering Civilian Labor Force and Employment Level, some of the growth is simply due to an increasing population rather than changes in employment dynamics
Weeks Out of Work
There are two measures for how long people have been out of work. One is the "average" number of weeks people have unemployed and the "median" number of weeks out of work. A third metric, a more important one as it turns out, is the difference between those two numbers.
The Average is the sum of the total weeks out of work divided by the number of people out of work; 24.9 weeks at the end of 2017. The Median is the number of weeks where 50% of the people out of work have been so for less than that number and 50% have been out of work longer. At the end of 2017, the median is 10.6 weeks.
Our third metric is the difference between the average and median, which at the end of 2017 was 14.5 weeks. Why is this important? Because whether the difference is getting larger or smaller gives insight on whether employment is betting better or worse. If the median is larger than the average they are getting closer together then the employment picture is getting better because fewer and fewer people are spending long times out of work.
Obviously the opposite is true as well. And if you look carefully at the dashed line in Chart EMP-4 you will see a slight up-tick, or at least a flattening out in the difference. This would correspond to the increasing Discouraged worker number.
One up-tick does not make a trend, so we need to wait for two or three more months of data to come.
Food Stamp Use
Hand-in-hand with unemployment is SNAP (Food Stamps) usage. It makes since that as unemployment grows, food stamp use will sooner or later also increase. The same is true when employment grows, food stamp use will ultimately decline.
The take-away is, of course, that if we see in CHART EMP - 6 food stamp use increasing then the economy is probably in trouble. If it is decreasing, then the economy is almost certainly recovering.
Because food stamps is a "lagging" indicator then the forces driving the observed changes are more than likely not going to change in the near future. If they do, such as the last data point in the chart below, then one needs to start paying closer attention to what's happening in the overall economy.
The next set of indicators measure different aspects of forces that drive economic activity or reflect what is going on. The first one we will consider is one that President Trump touts a lot - the Dow Jones Average. The Dow Jones is not necessarily a good indicator of how the economy is really doing. But, it can change a declining economy into something much worse, like a depression (e.g., 1929) or a major recession (e.g., 2008). Chart MISC - 1 shows the Dow from 1996 - present.
Right now the Dow shows a strong recovery shortly after President Obama started his stimulus program because investors felt the government was finally doing something to stop the recession. It continued through the entirety of Obama's term. Because of promises of huge corporate tax cuts from Donald Trump the market improved even faster (there is very little hard economic news to warrant such an increase other than hope, by the way.) Now that the tax cut has passed it may not have the impetus to keep growing at such a rate.
Among other things President Trump has made his presidency about bringing back manufacturing which has been declining since 1998. In fact, it began increasing again under Obama in 2010. The upward trend appears to be continuing with Trump.
An increase in manufacturing jobs reflects an increase in higher paying jobs, which America sorely needs.
Consumer Sentiment Index
Consumer Sentiment is thought to be a great indicator of consumer intention to buy things. And that is important because consumer spending is 69% of GDP. Any given measure generally means nothing in particular, but the trend does. Look at the transition between Clinton and Bush (the 2001 recession) and Bush and Obama (2008 recession) to see what I mean.
While not a true economic indicator, it probably does speak to long-term downward orpressure on the economy. The idea is that as more and more people become uninsured, the sicker America becomes. A sicker America will lead to lower productivity which depresses GDP growth.
The reverse is also true, the healthier America is, the more productive we will be thereby raising GDP.
As we see as soon as Donald Trump took office and began his campaign to do away with Obamacare, the uninsured rate shot up.
Carbon Footprint in America
This final metric is the carbon footprint in America which means how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere. Conservatives and President Trump think global warming is a hoax, especially that it is man-made. In the near future, like the next 20 or 25 years, atmospheric scientists don't see immediate impact on the worlds economy. But after that time the die will be cast and economic disaster will be unavoidable.
Right now, the carbon footprint is still following the downward path President Obama set. President Trump, however, has ordered the EPA to roll back all of Obama's efforts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released.
© 2017 My Esoteric