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Michelle Maroto

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Why employment isn’t a good indicator of economic well-being

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May 5, 2019

As expected, President Trump touted the “hottest” economy in years in his State of the Union address. As evidence for a booming economy, Trump noted that, “Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.” And that “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”

Let’s focus on a minority group with historically low rates of employment — people with disabilities — and examine some of these claims. Employment rates for people with disabilities have declined since the late-1980s. An analysis of employment trends over time also shows similar declines even when accounting for differences in age, education, and family background. Despite these overarching trends, the President claimed in his address that “Unemployment for Americans with disabilities is at an all-time low.”

To be sure, many organizations have fact checked Trump’s SOTU speech. True: unemployment among people with disabilities did decrease slightly from 10.5% to 9.2% in 2017 and rates are lower for other minority groups. This isn’t, however, a record low nor did Trump mention that unemployment among people with disabilities is still about twice as high as the rest of the population.  It also masks the fact that while unemployment may have declined, it is still highest among African Americans and Hispanics with disabilities.

The bigger problem isn’t the hyperbolic tone we’ve come to expect in a SOTU address and especially one delivered by Donald J. Trump. It’s trying to convince American voters that the economy is doing well because of increased employment.

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