State of the Union: Unemployment under President Trump

When President Trump gives his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, he is unlikely to let any doubts temper his standard message that under his stewardship, the economy is thriving, unemployment is falling, the stock market is roaring and that the best days are still ahead.

“I’m proud to declare that the United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,” Trump said last month in Davos, Switzerland. “America is thriving, America is flourishing, and yes, America is winning again like never before.”

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CURRENT STATE OF JOBS

The White House said in a statement the end of last month: “With a 50-year-low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent and 1 million more job openings than job seekers, the ratio of respondents who say jobs are ‘plentiful’ compared to those who say jobs are ‘hard to get’ is more than 4:1.”

A robust U.S. economy  has proved solid and durable, and Trump has used that to his advantage.

Last month, he tweeted about his inauguration three years ago by touting that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is the lowest in history.

“It was exactly three years ago today, January 20, 2017, that I was sworn into office,” Trump tweeted. “So appropriate that today is also MLK jr DAY."

The tweet continued: “African-American Unemployment is the LOWEST in the history of our Country, by far. Also, best Poverty, Youth, and Employment numbers, ever. Great!”

In December, the unemployment rate held steady at 3.5 percent, signaling that the job market remains strong at the start of 2020 -- even if hiring and wage gains have slowed somewhat more than a decade into an economic expansion.

For the year of 2019, employers added an average of roughly 175,000 jobs per month, compared with about 223,250 per month in 2018.

The U.S. economy added 2.1 million jobs last year, down from gains of nearly 2.7 million in 2018. Hiring may have slowed because the number of unemployed people seeking work has fallen by 540,000 people over the past year to 5.75 million. With fewer unemployed people hunting for jobs, there is a potential limit on job gains.

Irina Novoselsky, CEO of the jobs site CareerBuilder, said that more employers are offering non-wage benefits such as the chance to work remotely to potential workers and becoming less focused on educational credentials when hiring.

“The major fact that is pushing the trend is the labor shortage in America,” she said. “Companies are being forced to provide that flexibility.”

FUTURE STATE OF JOBS

The state of the job market has become a pivotal division between Trump and his Democratic challengers.

Trump can campaign on the low unemployment rate and job growth as he seeks a second term. Democrats, seeking to oust him, will point to wages that have not taken off in a meaningful for many Americans coping with high costs for medical care and higher education.

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Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement Friday that "the economy under President Trump’s policies is still strong and growing."

"Unemployment is at a 50-year low nationally and wages are rising faster for workers on the lower end of the earning scale than they are for the upper end," he said.

He added that Democratic policy "would interfere with the economy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.