President Donald Trump had a lot to say about the U.S. economy during his 2020 State of the Union speech on February 4, claiming that he has turned around the dysfunctional economy he inherited from President Barack Obama, brought unemployment way down and single-handedly brought about a “blue-collar boom.” But truth be told, the United States’ official unemployment rate was already way down when Obama was still in office — 4.6% in December 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Trump ignored the fact that much of the economic growth under his watch has been at the top, and a report by journalist Griff Witte for the Washington Post points to Berlin, New Hampshire as an example of why so many of the voters attending the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic Primary this week aren’t buying into Trump’s misleading “blue-collar boom” claim.
Witte notes that the unemployment rate in Berlin, New Hampshire is only 3%, but he explains why that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Certainly, 3% unemployment is preferably to the 10% national unemployment rate that Obama was battling in November 2009, according to BLS data. As Witte reports, however, Berlin residents “say just about the only jobs available pay minimum wage with no benefits as out-of-pocket health-care costs surge. The last elementary school shuttered last year, capping a long-term exodus of young families. The once-bustling downtown is so scarred by closures, demolitions and fires that it looks, according to the city’s mayor, ‘like a bomb was dropped in the middle of it.’”
Berlin resident Paul Labrecque told the Washington Post, “We’re hurting, there’s no question. We’ve got no businesses, nothing to attract people. There aren’t the kind of jobs here that can sustain a family.”
Witte points out that in Coos County, New Hampshire (which includes Berlin), “the poverty rate actually increased between 2017 and 2018, Census figures show. Even as poverty fell nationally, about a third of counties nationwide saw an uptick from 2016 to 2018, the latest years for which statistics are available.”
Another interviewee for Witte’s article, which links to poverty-related data from Pew, was 64-year-old Berlin resident Eddy Deblois — who notes all the downsizing that has occurred at a local paper mill.
“I don’t go to the doctor myself for most things,” Deblois told the Washington Post. “I can’t afford it.”
Another Berlin resident, 61-year-old Diane Begin, explained why she needs government assistance.
“It’s a struggle all the time,” Begin told the Washington Post. “Between the apartment, electricity, doctor’s bills and prescriptions, there’s nothing left. The end of the month is horrible. Thank God for food pantries.”