In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Donald Trump boasted that under his presidency, American workers have seen a “blue collar boom.” But a stunning new study by a University of Maryland economist, published by the nonprofit public policy news site The Conversation, shows that since Trump took office, the average real wage of an hourly worker in the United States has “barely budged.” For workers in the U.S. manufacturing sector, real wages have actually plunged, the study shows.
In his speech on Tuesday, Trump touted figures that he claimed showed how wealth held by the bottom 50 percent of household earners in the U.S. increased three times as fast as the wealth held by the top 1 percent since he took office. But according to a report by the Reuters news agency, Trump’s characterization of the increase as a “blue collar boom” was misleading.
While wealth in the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households has increased by 54 percent since the start of 2017, Reuters reported most of that rise benefited “whites, college graduates, and people born during the ‘baby boom.'” According to Reuters, these are the same groups “that have tended to accumulate wealth in the past.” And despite the 54 percent boost, the poorest 50 percent continue to hold a mere 1.6 percent of all American household net worth.
But for “blue collar” workers, particularly in America’s manufacturing industries, Trump’s “boom” has looked more like a bust, according to the report by University of Maryland economist David Salkever.
The “real” value of hourly wages for manufacturing workers — that is, the actual buying power of worker pay when adjusting for inflation — since Trump took office at the start of 2017 has dropped by 3.88 percent, with the situation looking even more grim when the real value of fringe benefits is included in the figures.
According to Salkever’s study, manufacturing worker wages including fringe benefits have dropped 4.33 percent since Trump took office, from $37.92 per hour to $36.31. Fringe benefits include such non-wage forms of compensation like health insurance, retirement benefits, and bonus pay.
But under Trump, the inflation-adjusted value of worker fringe benefits has dropped by 1.7 percent. According to data compiled by Salkever from the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, even the value of “nominal” — that is, not adjusted for inflation — fringe benefits has dropped somewhat since 2018, from a high of $10.48 per hour in the non-adjusted value of benefits, to $10.20 per hour at the end of 2019.
Average real hourly wages for workers during the Trump term, without including fringe benefits, have risen during his term — but by only a mere 0.47 percent, a number which could not accurately be said to constitute a “boom.”
Trump has previously made similar claims. In 2017, he claimed that his massive tax cut package would cause the average American household to enjoy a $4,000 jump in income. But a study of the tax cuts by the Center For Public Integrity showed that the household bonanza did not materialize, with most employees seeing almost nothing in tax cuts, while large corporations pocketed approximately $150 billion.