Americans are flourishing, Donald Trump insisted during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. Unemployment is down; so is poverty. Everyone is delighted and having a very good time. “Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food-stamp rolls,” he added. “Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off of food stamps, and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.” Congressional Republicans leapt to their feet and roared approval.
I note, because this is a Trump speech, and certain traditions must be observed: The president is not telling the full truth. The number of Americans on food stamps did increase during the Obama administration. But the increase was linked to the recession, which Obama did not cause. Later, in 2014, Obama signed a version of the annual farm bill that cut the food-stamp budget by $800 million. If Trump’s criticism is that the wastrel Democratic president threw gobs of money away on lazy poor people, it doesn’t quite hold.
Trump’s braggadocio about his own record is similarly undermined by reality. The president spoke tonight of a “blue-collar boom,” an economic golden age instigated by his administration’s deregulatory policies. This is false — unemployment is down, but wages are largely stagnant, and income inequality reached historic heights last year. People didn’t stop using food stamps because their economic circumstances had drastically improved. The percentage of Americans on food stamps shrank because the Trump administration changed eligibility standards. The president took help away from people who needed it. That’s not proof of a blue-collar boom. In fact, the administration has demonstrated no real interest in creating a blue-collar boom at all.
Trump’s economic priorities consist of slashing welfare, deregulating industry, and passing tax cuts that mostly enrich the wealthiest people in America. No standing ovation can obscure the basic fact that the Trump presidency has been disastrous for the poor.