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What the Trump Scoreboard says about the economy of the past four years


MarketWatch created the Trump Scoreboard four years ago to keep track of the performance of a president who deemed he alone could fix an unequal American economy. While data from the last three months of 2020 and January are yet to be reported, the information we do have tells the story of an economy that continued to grow steadily under President Trump until a deadly pandemic upended the global economy. Here are a few takeaways.

Mass layoffs in 2020 erase all job gains

The impact of mass layoffs due to the pandemic skews the total number of jobs lost during Trump’s four years in office. Three million jobs disappeared, all of them destroyed early in the pandemic when employment fell by a record 22 million.

Until February 2020, job creation had remained relatively consistent with the previous three years. Jobs added totaled 6.8 million between February 2017 and February 2020. During the previous three years under President Obama, more than eight million jobs were added.

The median number of jobs created each month during Trump’s first three years in office gives a better indication of how the economy performed under his administration. The median gain each month totaled 197,000, a bit higher than the 186,000 monthly median during President Obama’s two terms. 

By comparison, the median monthly increase in jobs was 61,000 under George W. Bush and 252,000 under President Bill Clinton.

Wages remained steady until the pandemic

Median wages rose steadily through Trump’s first three years in office, but that also changed dramatically during the pandemic. The loss of so many lower-paying jobs inflated wage growth and even now hourly pay is up 5.2% compared with a year ago. Typically wages increase about 2% to 3% a year.

Just like with jobs, median changes in wages give a better indication of Trump’s first three years. Median wages grew 3.3%, on par with the Bush presidency. Median wage growth during Obama’s two terms in office was about 2.2%, about one percentage point lower.

The only constant — student debt

While other economic measures such as GDP, the trade deficit and homeownership were all extremely volatile in 2020, student debt continued to rise steadily even during the pandemic.

From Trump’s first quarter in office to the third quarter of 2020 (the latest data available), student debt rose by more than $254 billion and now sits at just above $1.7 trillion. 

Similarly, student debt rose by more than $300 billion during Obama’s second term to roughly $1.4 trillion.


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