No, Trump Hasn’t Done More for Blacks Than Any President Since Lincoln

In fact, African Americans have seen smaller economic gains than under his predecessors.

Donald Trump and his operatives haven’t figured out how to go after Kamala Harris. Now that Joe Biden has named her to be his running mate, they are discovering she’s hard to tear down. It would come as no surprise then, if Trump starts to double down on his famous boast: “I’ve done more for Black Americans, in fact, than any President in U.S. history, with the possible exception of another Republican President, the late, great Abraham Lincoln.”

There’s one problem. Trump’s claim of presiding over historic economic progress by African Americans is demonstrably false. Even before the collapse in employment triggered by the pandemic and his terrible mismanagement of it, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that African Americans had seen smaller job gains and smaller reductions in unemployment under Trump than under his nemesis Barack Obama or under Bill Clinton.

The president’s distortion field is not limited to Black Americans when it comes to jobs, especially during this pandemic. When the BLS released the nation’s employment report for July last week, the White House crowed that “[j]ob growth has shattered expectations … over the past three months.” The data clearly show that job losses have soared across every group since the pandemic took hold here in March.  They also show that the increases in African American unemployment over the last four months wiped out all of their job gains since Trump took office.

Trump’s extravagant declarations about helping African Americans rest on one fact: For two years of his presidency, a record number of African Americans – more than 19 million—were employed.  That fact is not the whole story. To properly gauge Trump’s record on jobs and African Americans, we can track the job gains and losses by African Americans from the month Trump took office to February of this year, before the pandemic hit home, and compare the results to what happened during comparable periods under other presidents.

Let’s consider what happened under Obama from January 2013 to February 2016 and under Clinton from January 1996 to February 2000. Then, we can compare what happened under Trump from January 2017 to February 2020. The data show that Trump runs a clear third, especially compared to Obama. To start, job gains by African Americans were 34 percent larger under Obama than Trump—1,748,000 compared to 1,304,000.  Further, the number of unemployed African Americans fell three times as much under Obama as under Trump—by 895,000 compared to less than 278,000—and the unemployment rate for African Americans fell 5.2 percentage-points under Obama, compared to 1.7 points under Trump.

Clinton also beats Trump. African American employment jumped by 1,497,000, or 10.9 percent, under Clinton from January 1997 to February 2000, compared to the gains of 1,304,000, or 7.1 percent, during the comparable period for Trump. The decline in unemployed African Americans was fairly close during the two periods: 321,000 under Clinton versus, the 278,000 under Trump. But the African American jobless rate fell 2.7 percentage points under Clinton versus 1.7 points under Trump.

Only in an alternate universe could these results demonstrate that Trump has “done more for Black Americans, in fact, than any President in U.S. history.”

Trump’s jobs record since the pandemic is actually a historic failure for everyone, and certainly African Americans. From March to July, the number of employed African Americans fell 2,047,000, and Black unemployment jumped 1,546,000, or more than 111 percent. These job losses outweighed all of the preceding job gains under President Trump; by July, 1,265,000 fewer African Americans had jobs than when he took office.

Over the four months from March to July, total employment fell 12,350,000, reaching the lowest monthly level in July since March 2013, apart from April, May, and June of this year. Similarly, total joblessness soared by 9,198,000, an astounding 129 percent increase from March.

By denying that anything serious was happening, Trump’s political instincts failed him: His own core supporters are concentrated in groups hit particularly hard by the pandemic’s unemployment tsunami. From March to July, the jobless numbers jumped 129 percent for whites and 128 percent for high school graduates and those without a diploma. Those unemployment increases among Trump’s followers exceed even the 111 percent surge among African Americans.

It is virtually certain that very few Black Americans want to thank Donald Trump for their job prospects and overall economic plight under his stewardship. His wishing away reality and lying about it won’t change that.

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Robert J. Shapiro

Robert J. Shapiro, a Washington Monthly contributing writer, is the chairman of Sonecon and a Senior Fellow at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He previously served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs under Bill Clinton and advised senior members of the Obama administration on economic policy.