What keeps Americans up at night? There are many contenders, but here’s what’s not a worry right now: the economy, and most people’s ability to get a job, keep a job or anticipate a raise. Look around, notice all the Now Hiring signs?
Some evidence most of us didn’t expect but ought to celebrate: The U.S. economy is growing at a 4.2 percent clip, far outpacing the 2 percent range of the postrecession era of Barack Obama’s presidency. The unemployment rate is an astonishingly low 3.9 percent. It is at a near-record low for African-Americans (6.3 percent) and Hispanics (4.7 percent). Jobless claims have tumbled to a 49-year low. Wages are rising. Median household income grew 1.8 percent in 2017 to an all-time high of $61,372.
Democrats and Republicans are squabbling about who deserves credit for the good times: President Donald Trump or his predecessor? Both men claim they are responsible. Under Obama, the U.S. recovered from the 2007-09 Great Recession and continued to grow, but expansion has hit a higher gear under Trump. The combination of tax cuts and deregulation is driving business investment and hiring.
Capital investment, which reflects spending on buildings and equipment, increased 19 percent in the first half of the year to $341 billion. R & D spending jumped 14 percent. In July, a small-business optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business hit the highest level in its 45-year history. Shoppers seem happy, too. Consumer confidence is at the highest level since October 2000, according to the Conference Board. About 25 percent of households expect their incomes to rise in the next six months, also the highest level since October 2000.
The biggest worry we’ve seen among employers: Bosses are having trouble finding enough people to hire. Big retailers are starting the seasonal hiring process earlier so they can nab enough employees. Target wants to hire 120,000 seasonal workers, 20 percent more than last year.
There are 6.9 million U.S. job openings, the Labor Department says, while 6.2 million out-of-work people are looking for employment. There are skill mismatches, so not everyone will get his or her ideal job. Still, the country is in excellent economic shape. When Gallup recently asked Americans the most important problem facing the U.S., just 12 percent cited some aspect of the economy.
What’s unclear is how expansion and job growth will factor into this fall’s midterm elections. Republicans seem unable to galvanize behind a message that their tending of the economy is good for the country. Democrats want to change the subject, or relitigate the question of whether Trump or Obama should get credit. Come Nov. 6, American voters will have their say.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE