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Jobs and Wage Growth in the 6th Top-Tier Republican Debate


Last night’s Republican debate in South Carolina started off with a question about jobs, and the economy and the job market dominated the discussion at many points during the night. Pretty much the only point all the candidates admit to agreeing on is that they disagree with President Obama’s assertion, made in the State of the Union address earlier in the week, that the “United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.”


(Photo Credit: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C., via Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A full discussion of every point related to the economy would take as long as the actual debate. (And if you want a refresher, there’s a transcript at CBS News.) Below, however, you’ll find some highlights that are likely to be of interest to you, the working professional – namely, topics related to the job market and wage growth.

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Is the Economy Strong?

Moderator and Fox Business News anchor Maria Bartiromo kicked off the evening, asking, “The president said that anyone who claims America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. Senator Cruz, what do you see that he doesn’t?”

Cruz replied:

“The president tried to paint a rosy picture of jobs. And you know, he’s right. If you’re a Washington lobbyist, if you make your money in and around Washington, things are doing great. The millionaires and billionaires are doing great under Obama. But we have the lowest percentage of Americans working today of any year since 1977. Median wages have stagnated. And the Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country.”

The New York Times offers an ongoing fact-check of the 2016 debates; their take on Cruz’s claim was, “Close enough.”

“President Obama highlighted the good news about the economy in his State of the Union address. The unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent to 5 percent, and job growth has been steady,” says Binyamin Appelbaum in his commentary. “But Senator Ted Cruz is right to point out that big problems remain. The share of adults with jobs remains close to the lowest level in decades and, as Mr. Cruz also noted, wages for many workers have stagnated. In December, 59.5 percent of adults over 16 had jobs. The number has climbed slightly since the recession, so Mr. Cruz is not literally correct, but he has the basic point right.”

What Inspires a Healthy Job Market and Higher Wages?

Gov. John Kasich said, “…it takes three things to grow jobs.” Roughly, those are:

  • “…common-sense regulations, which is why I think we should freeze all federal regulations for one year, except for health and safety.”
  • “…tax cuts, because that sends a message to the job creators that things are headed the right way.”
  • “…fiscal discipline. We have to show that we can march to a balanced budget.”

“Those three things put together are going to give confidence to job creators and you will begin to see wages rise,” he said. “You will begin to see jobs created in a robust economy.”

Is that correct? Well, the mystery of what inspires real wage growth is one that economists would love to solve, but as with all issues related to the job market, the situation is complex. (And to be fair, too complex for any political candidate in either party to sum up in a 90-second response.)

“It isn’t clear why wages aren’t rising faster,” Ben Casselman wrote at FiveThirtyEight last year. “One possibility is that the economy just hasn’t improved enough yet. Maybe if the workers-to-jobs ratio improves a bit more, employers will finally have to start offering raises. Or perhaps the ratio exaggerates improvements in the labor market because there are lots of workers who want jobs but don’t officially count as unemployed.”

Casselman also notes another possibility: “…deeper, so-called structural reasons for the slow growth in wages…. Economists point to a range of possible explanations: globalization, technological change, declining unions, rising regulation. What they all share is that they won’t be solved through economic growth alone.”

Is China Costing Americans Jobs Because of Currency Manipulation?

“China is ripping us on trade,” Donald Trump said. “They’re devaluing their currency and they’re killing our companies. Thousands of thousands – you look at the number of companies and the number in terms of manufacturing of plans that we’ve lost – 50,000 because of China.”

As The New York Times notes, that’s not the whole story.

“There is little doubt that manufacturing employment in the United States has declined because we are importing more stuff from China,” says Appelbaum. “A 2013 study estimated that the United States lost almost one million factory jobs between 2000 and 2007 because of increased trade with the Asian nation.”

Appelbaum notes that there’s some dispute about the impact of currency manipulation, and that “by most accounts, the extent of this manipulation has declined in recent years – and even without any manipulation, China would still enjoy a significant advantage in manufacturing, thanks to its relatively low labor costs.”

For more on the candidates’ views on the economy, the job market, and other subjects, see the full transcript.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your take on the debates so far? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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