Since July 1, President Trump has tweeted to celebrate the results of the U.S. stock market nine times and has tweeted about strong jobs numbers thirteen times. His frequent tweeting about these two metrics appears to indicate that they are his key indicators for assessing how we are doing as a country. It is worth noting, however, that during this timeframe not once has he tweeted about the “poverty rate” in the U.S. Why not?
Yes, the U.S. stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, seems to be doing well as the Dow posted record closing highs all of last week. This, however, should not be too surprising. Since 2013, the U.S. stock market has hit a new high closing record 157 times (123 times under President Obama, 34 times under President Trump). Here’s another way of looking at it: The U.S. stock market has hit an all-time high in 30 of the last 54 months. In other words, the U.S. stock market has been doing well for quite some time now, meaning the record-breaking numbers that the President is tweeting about aren’t quite as rare as they might seem.
What should be surprising and alarming is the fact that the President does not seem to view the U.S. poverty rate as a key indicator of how America is doing.
In a recent article Politico points out that economists have frequently found little relationship between returns on stock investments and real economic growth. Instead, it appears that a strong stock market helps the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, through the increasing income inequality gap. The article points out, “about 80 percent of the value of the stock market is held by the richest 10 percent of the nation; the vast majority of gains in share value accrue to the rich, not to most Americans.”
Understanding and tracking the poverty rate in the United States and in North Carolina is important because it is an indicator of whether the economy is delivering opportunity for all. It goes without saying that the greatest country in the world, and the one with strongest economy, should not have a high number of people that are poor.
Unfortunately, currently 46 million people (13.5 percent) across the U.S. live in poverty. In our state alone, 1.6 million North Carolinians (16.4 percent) live in poverty and struggle every day to make ends meet. Among the state’s 100 counties, the poverty rate ranges from 9 percent to 30 percent.
Across all 100 counties in NC, there are 2.2 million North Carolinians who have a job but are still earning poverty-level wages and annual incomes, which is $24,600 for a family of 4. In other words, having a job is good, but not enough to get by for many people across our state.
Furthermore, analysis shows that, over the past two decades, we have not made enough progress as a nation in reducing the number of people who live in poverty in the face of a changing economic landscape that has pushed more people into poverty and made the pathway out a steeper climb. In fact, absent the policies and systems that remove barriers to economic security, like food assistance (SNAP), employment and training services for dislocated workers, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, any progress in building an economy that works for everyone would have been impossible. That is another reason why the President’s plans to reduce these programs makes his lack of attention to the poverty measure and what it means for us all even more concerning.
It is clear that the poverty rate in America needs more attention, not less. In the fields of business and public administration, many leaders have heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” It means regular measurement and reporting of key indicators keeps you focused — because you use that information to make decisions to improve your results.
If the President wants to leave a legacy of Making America Great Again for millions of people who feel forgotten and left out from America’s growing economy, then it is crucial that he also talk about the U.S poverty rate and what his administration is doing to reduce it.
Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.