Trump pretends to be a savior of the working class — but the numbers just don't add up
President Donald Trump speaking after a massacre at two mosques in New Zealand. (AFP/File / Nicholas Kamm)

Despite his plutocratic urges and unabashed conspicuous consumption, President Donald Trump has sold himself — sometimes successfully — as a politician who represents the working class.

And since taking office, he and his defenders have constantly boasted about the economy and taken credit for all the job growth seen during his term — even when it hasn't been more impressive than President Barack Obama's term in office.

But while there has been a recent surge of growth in the manufacturing sector — a surge that may be tapering off — wage growth for blue-collar work remains relatively unimpressive and in keeping with the past two decades, as Kevin Drum pointed out:

During 2018 blue-collar wages went up about 1.1 percent. It was a decent year, but it was just making up for a lackluster 2017. Over the past two years together, blue-collar wages have gone up 0.67 percent per year. That’s nearly identical to the 20-year trend, which has seen blue-collar wages increase 0.66 percent per year.

If blue-collar wages continue to rise at 1-2 percent per year for four or five years, then we’d have something to be happy about. But we’re nowhere close to that. We’ve had one year of middling-good growth, a few months of good growth, and that’s all. There’s really nothing extraordinary going on here.

One could credibly argue that 2018 is a more important year for Trump's performance than 2017, because he has already been in office a year and his major economic policy — the GOP tax reform — had finally been put in place. From this perspective, Trump's record does look more positive. But Trump and his supporters rarely limit themselves to such narrow boasts, arguing falsely that Trump's election in 2016 inaugurated a grand new economic age for the country. And as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's recent comments have shown, the experts expect any economic bump from the tax cuts to be transitory. The Fed has already reduced its projections for growth in the coming years, which was already expected to be lower than 2018.

“And the Fed has marked its growth forecast down,” said economist Paul Krugman last month. “Nobody but the Trumpies believes in the magic of their tax cut.”

It's possible wages will continue to rise as the labor market tightens, even if growth slows — and any reasonable observer should hope that they will. But there's little reason for celebration just yet.