Donald Trump’s budget ignores what is ailing American workers

Cuts to social programmes are unlikely to improve the health or employment prospects for struggling Americans

PRESIDENTIAL budget requests are worth exactly nothing. They carry no force of legislation. They land, heavy, bound and shrink-wrapped, so they can be immediately binned as Congress continues its now yearly stumble toward a “continuing resolution”—a supposedly temporary legislative act that in recent decades has almost entirely replaced the statutory budget process. The request from the President is the least consequential part of something that is completely broken. It functions like a bumper sticker on an old car. It only tells you about the person who’s driving.

Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who won his seat in the Tea-Party wave of 2010, runs Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. Mr Mulvaney has created the budget his wing of the Republican party always wanted: government as a service, paid for by its clients, the taxpayers. If you receive more than you pay, the system has failed, and must be fixed. The marketing copy that accompanied the budget calls this “respect for people who pay the bills”.

This respect consists, mostly, of cuts to social services. Mr Mulvaney finds most of his savings by reducing what the federal government spends on health insurance programmes for the poor by $616bn over the next ten years. He wants to cut subsidies for student loans, for a savings of $143bn. He wants to make cuts to a programme that supports poor families with children ($272bn), and another that provides an income for those sick or injured who can’t work ($72bn). His aim is to encourage people to get back to work.

To fix disability insurance, then, Mr Trump must pull off an impossible trick: he has to fix rural America. He has to provide better, cheaper health care, and public health programmes to prevent obesity and smoking. He has to provide jobs—to replace the poultry slaughterhouse and copper wire and fishing boat manufacturing plants that have left Van Buren County, for example. He could make it easier to move, or train for a job at a desk.

 

Fact-checking Donald Trump’s first presidential address to Congress

Highlights from Donald Trump’s first speech to Congress.

Jobs, taxes and business

“Since my election, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Wal Mart, and many others have announced they will invest billions and billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs.”

Some of these corporations announced jobs and investment before the election, though Ford credited the president with its decision to create 700 jobs and make a $700m investment in Michigan. General Motors had committed $2.9bn and Walmart announced an expansion before any votes were cast, on the other hand, and several companies, including Chrysler, had previously agreed to create jobs.

“Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.”

This is a grossly exaggerated claim that seems to rely on the roughly 94 million civilians who are 16 or older and not in the labor force: a figure that includes retired people, high school and college students, people with a disability, etc. The unemployment rate in January was 4.8%, or about 7.5 million people who are looking for work but can’t find it.

“Over 43 million people are now living in poverty, and over 43 million Americans are on food stamps.”

Trump is correct that about 43 million Americans are classified as living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau, after a small decline last year. He is also correct about 43 million people using food stamps, according to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That number reached as high as 47.6 million people in 2013, during the slow recovery.

“We will create massive tax relief for the middle class.”

Trump’s tax plan cuts taxes for all Americans but, by a wide margin, disproportionately helps the wealthiest Americans. According to a conservative thinktank, the Tax Foundation, his plan would save wealthy Americans millions of dollars and add $5.3tn to the national debt. Half of Trump’s tax cuts would go to the top 1% of earners, the thinktank estimates, and most families below the top 20% of earners would have income gains of less than 1%.

“We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since Nafta was approved, and we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.”

According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, slightly more than 10% of the manufacturing jobs lost since the 1970s were due to trade deals such as Nafta. The study estimated that 88% of factory jobs lost since the 1970s were eliminated by automation.

Economists still debate the effect of Nafta on jobs. In 2015, the Congressional Research Service wrote that the “net overall effect” was “relatively modest”. “Nafta did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters.” A 2012 report by the OECD found that manufacturing jobs did flee the US after the deal was signed, but also noted the broader shift toward a service economy.

Trump is correct that China has benefited from trade deals, such as the “most favored nation” status that Bill Clinton renewed for the country. But it too has started to feel the changes of robots replacing humans in the workforce.

“Right now, American companies are taxed at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.”

The US is not even in the top 30 highest-taxed nations in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD’s most recent data ranks the US 31st of 34 industrialized nations for tax revenue as a percentage of GDP – far behind Denmark, Britain, Germany and Luxembourg. The US ranks 17th for corporate tax revenue, and 19th for tax revenue per capita.

“We have the worst financial recovery in 65 years.”

This claim is true only because the 2008 financial crisis was the worst economic collapse in American history except for the Great Depression, when people starved to death and moved constantly in search of work. In 1933 25% of all workers and 37% of all non-farm workers were out of work. After the 2008 financial crisis, the US lost 8.7m jobs – in October 2010, unemployment reached a peak of 10%. The recession itself lasted 18 months, officially.

“In the last eight years, the past Administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other Presidents combined.”

Trump mostly has this right, except that he ignores key context: Barack Obama inherited the Oval Office while the economy was in freefall, and after his predecessor had signed a huge stimulus bill. Obama continued the recovery efforts of George W Bush, with Republican support from Congress, which ultimately controls the purse strings of government.

“Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800bn.”

Trump has it almost correct that the trade deficit in goods alone neared $800bn; but he ignores the surplus in services, which reduces the deficit to about $502.3 bn, according to the Census Bureau. Economists say investment, something that Trump has welcomed, also contributes to a larger deficit.

Healthcare

“Obamacare is collapsing.”

The Affordable Care Act’s healthcare program does have problems, but it is not “collapsing” or in the much warned “death spiral” in which rising costs push healthy people out of the market, ever increasing fees and then pushing companies out as well. But healthcare premiums are increasing at varying rates around the country, on average by 22%, making an unstable market state-to-state. Rates were increasing before the law was enacted, however, and about 30 million people are enrolled in the program.

Immigration

“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.”

The economic benefit of Trump’s immigration plans is uncertain. The disappearance of undocumented workers could push Americans into agriculture and construction jobs over the long term, for instance, but it could also sow chaos in those industries in the short term. A fair amount of research suggests that immigration is good for the economy, and some US industries rely heavily on employees with visas (such as tech) or undocumented workers (such as agriculture).

If enacted, Trump’s plans would have also cost taxpayers billions. Trump’s promised wall would cost Americans about $21.6bn – Mexico has flatly refused to pay for it; aggressive deportation plans could cost billions more, especially if Trump greatly expands the number of federal border agents and the number of private prison contractors.

“We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own border wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in and at a now unprecedented rate.”

The US’s borders are not “wide open for anyone to cross”, with sections of wall and fencing along the southern border, 21,000 Customs and Border Patrol agents, and a recent history of aggressive deportation. Barack Obama has deported a record more than 2.5 million people, including a record 438,421 people in 2013. The US also has extremely strict vetting for visa applicants and refugees, forcing people to go through multiple rounds of interviews, background checks and medical screenings.

“Where proper vetting cannot occur … we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to establish itself in America.”

Trump’s suggestion that the US’s vetting methods cannot account for the systems of countries abroad has flipped the procedure of vetting on its head. The system, among the most intensive screening process in the world for refugees, relies on US agencies to vet applicants, and not those of countries abroad. Refugees must pass multiple background checks and interviews with several agencies, as well as medical checks, fingerprint and photo screenings. The process takes 18-24 months.

Foreign policy

“We’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”
“America has spent approximately $6tn in the Middle East, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6tn we could have rebuilt our country – twice.”

Trump does not specify what spending he’s referring to – though the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost an estimated $4.79tn, according to a study by Brown University researchers.

Trump is correct that US infrastructure, in general, is in dire need of repair and reconstruction. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers reported that the government needs to spend roughly $1.4 tn over the next decade, or $3.6tn by 2020, to overcome the shortfall in infrastructure funding.

Trump’s claim of $6tn is misleading: it includes estimates of future spending, including veterans care for decades in the future.

Crime

“Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison.”

Trump’s anecdote suggests a link between immigrants and crime, but anecdotes about individuals do not paint an accurate picture of about 11 million people, most of whom are not violent offenders or aggravated felons.

On the contrary, presidential commissions and recent academic research has in general found no links between immigrants and crime or lower rates of crime correlated to cities with more immigrants compared to those with fewer immigrants.

“The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century. In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone — and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher.”

Trump has accurately stated a statistic he often distorts. Last September, the FBI reported that murders and non-negligent manslaughter rose in the US by 10.8% in 2015, the largest single-year increase since 1971. That is not the same as saying there are more murders in the US than at any point since 1971: 15,696 murders were reported in 2015, down from 1991 high of 24,703. The murder rate declined 42% from 1993 to 2014, even though the population increased by a quarter.

Trump correctly cites Chicago’s number of shooting victims; the city has suffered a significant increase in gun violence in the last two years, though it has yet to reach the highs of the mid-1990s. This year has started even more violently than 2016 did, with at least 513 people shot so far in 2017. But fewer people have been killed compared with the same period in 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune, and police do not trust a few months’ worth of data to estimate a trend.

Also worth reading: An annotated guide to Trump’s first address to Congress.
Source for this fact-checking post: The Guardian newspaper article.

Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs and lower wages?

Mari Saarenpää with her dog Oiva in Paltamo, Finland. She was randomly selected to take part in the basic income experiment. Photograph: Tuomas Härkönen

Mari Saarenpää with her dog Oiva in Paltamo, Finland. She was randomly selected to take part in the basic income experiment. Photograph: Tuomas Härkönen

When he got the letter after Christmas saying he was entitled to an unconditional income of €560 (£478) a month, Mika Ruusunen couldn’t believe his luck. “At first I thought it was a joke. I had to read it many times. I looked for any evidence it might be false.”

But the father of two was not the victim of a scam. He has been selected to take part in an experiment being run by the Finnish government, in which 2,000 unemployed people between the ages of 25 and 58 will receive a guaranteed sum – a “basic income” – of €560 a month for two years. It replaces their unemployment benefit, but they will continue to receive it whether or not they find work. The government hopes it will encourage the unemployed to take on part-time work without worrying about losing their benefits.

Today, the Finnish economy continues to struggle in the wake of the financial crisis, which hit just as communications giant Nokia’s star was starting to wane. This left Ruusunen, who lost his job as a baker two years ago, struggling to find work. He was unemployed when participants for the basic income pilot were randomly selected, but had started a paid IT apprenticeship by the time he got the letter.

“For me, it’s like free money on top of my earnings – it’s a bonus,” he tells me. But he thinks the basic income will make a big difference to others who are unemployed, especially those who are entrepreneurially minded. “If someone wants to start their own business, you don’t get unemployment benefits even if you don’t have any income for six months. You have to have savings, otherwise it’s not possible.”

Juha Järvinen, another participant in the pilot scheme who lives in western Finland, agrees the benefits system holds the unemployed back. He has been unemployed for five years since his business collapsed. “I have done a lot for free – wedding videos, making web pages – because I’ve liked it. But before a basic income I would get into trouble if I got any money for that work.”

There is now a growing band of politicians, entrepreneurs and policy strategists who argue that a basic income could potentially hold the solution to some of the big problems of our time. Some of these new converts have alighted upon the basic income as an answer to our fragmenting welfare state. They point to the increasingly precarious nature of today’s labour market for those in low-paid, low-skilled work: growing wage inequality, an increasing number of part-time and temporary jobs, and rogue employers routinely getting away with exploitative practices.

This grim reality collides with an increasingly punitive welfare state. Our welfare system was originally designed as a contributory system of unemployment insurance, in which workers put in during the good times, and took out during temporary periods of unemployment. But a big chunk of welfare spending now goes on permanently supporting people in jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families. As the contributory principle has been eroded, politicians have sought to create a new sense of legitimacy by loading the system with sanctions that dock jobseeker benefits for minor transgressions.

Anthony Painter, a director at the RSA thinktank, paints a picture that will be familiar to viewers of Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake. “You are late for a jobcentre appointment – so you get a sanction. You’re on a college course the jobcentre doesn’t think appropriate, so you get a sanction. Your benefits are paid late, so you face debt, rent arrears and the food bank. That’s the reality for millions on low or no pay – they are surrounded by tripwires with little chance of escape.”

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper web site here.

 

Technology could kill 5 million jobs by 2020

Developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnology, would disrupt the business world in a similar way to previous industrial revolutions, the World Economic Forum said in a report published Monday.

Administrative and white collar office jobs are most at risk from a “fourth industrial revolution,” the forum said on the eve of its annual meeting in Davos this week.

It found that as many as 7.1 million jobs in the world’s richest countries could be lost through redundancy and automation. Those losses would be partially offset by the creation of 2.1 million new opportunities in sectors such as tech, professional services and media.

Countries will have to invest in transforming their workforce if they want to keep up with the changes and avoid a worse case scenario of “talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality,” said Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Investing in education and adult learning programs is a good place to start.

You may download the World Economic Forum report on the Future of Jobs here… WEF_Future_of_Jobs