INDIANAPOLIS – And the State of the Union is ...?

With President Trump delivering his third State of the Union address and the final one before Special Counsel Robert Mueller issues his Russia collusion investigation report and the 2020 presidential race begins in earnest, let’s look at the metrics:

The unemployment rate is 4%. For women 57.5% are employed, below the 60.3% reached in April 2000. For African-Americans, unemployment stands at 6.8%, for Latinos 4.9%. More Americans are working now than at any time in the past 50 years, with part of that due to increased population. 

Since January 2017, the U.S. economy created 4.9 million jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including 436,000 manufacturing jobs. According to the Washington Post, under President Barack Obama, about 900,000 manufacturing jobs were gained over seven years from the 2010 nadir of the Great Recession. But the number of manufacturing jobs is still nearly one million below the level at the start of the Great Recession.

President Trump said Tuesday night, “Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades.” According to the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index for civilian workers, wages rose 3.1% in 2018. According to the Census Bureau, median wage increase is about 75% since 1974 for those 65 years and older, about 28% for ages 55-64, 17% for those 45-54, about 5% for ages 35-44, and flat for ages 25-34. The Millennials are not happy campers.

President Trump said, “The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.” Border apprehensions stood at 1.6 million in 2000, declining to 400,000 in 2018. According to freshman Texas U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, border agents have told him they apprehend about one in three people attempting an illegal crossing.

The President said he wants to increase legal immigration. According to Politico, the number of visas for temporary stays in the U.S. fell 13% in fiscal year 2018 compared to 2016, the last full year under President Obama. Immigrant visas, which allow a person to apply for a green card, dropped by 14% over the same period. According to the State Department, F-1 student visas fell to 363,000 in fiscal year 2018, a 23% decline from fiscal year 2016. 

Americans without health insurance were about 18% in 2013, fell to 11% in 2017 and were 13.7% in 2018.

U.S. life expectancy has dropped two consecutive years, to 78.7 years, which is 1.5 years lower than the life expectancy of developed nations that include Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan and the United Kingdom. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a total of 63,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, up 21% from 2015. Opioid-related overdoses surged 28%, killing 42,249 people, mostly in the 25-to-54 age group. In 2017, some 1,852 Hoosiers died of drug overdoses for a death rate of 29.4 per 100,000, well above the 21.7 per 100,000 national average. 

The U.S. birthrate dropped 2% between 2016 and 2017, to 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. It continues a downturn that started with the Great Recession of 2008 and represents the lowest fertility rate in 30 years.

The U.S. abortion rate is in freefall, declining 24%, from 842,855 in 2006 to 638,169 in 2015 according to the CDC.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, there were 20.3 births for every 1,000 adolescent females ages 15-19, or 209,809 babies born to females in this age group, which is down 9% from 2015, and down 67% from 1991 when it was at a record high of 61.8 per 1,000.

Home ownership in the U.S. stood at 64.4% in July 2018, up from 62.9% in July 2016 after reaching an all time high of 69.20% in the second quarter of 2004 and a record low of 62.90% in 1965.

According to the FBI, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2017; the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) puts the decline at 74% over the same period. Property crime fell 50% between 1993 and 2017 according to the FBI, while BJS reports a decline of 69% during that span. However, even though the data show that violent and property crime rates have declined by double-digit percentages, a 2016 Pew Research survey showed that 57% of registered voters believe crime in the U.S. had gotten worse since 2008.

On the right/wrong track, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) composite shows 33.6% believe the U.S. is on the right track, 58.5% say we’re on the wrong track.

President Trump’s RCP composite job approval is 41.2% approve, 55.3% disapprove. On President Trump’s 2017 tax reforms, 42.2% approve and 42.2% disapprove. Vice President Mike Pence stood at 41.7% approve, 44.8% disapprove in the RCP composite. Congressional approval stands at 18.3% approve, 71.1% disapprove. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is at 36.7% approve, 49.3% disapprove. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is at 25% approve, 45.5% disapprove. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is at 29.4% approve, 42.2% disapprove. Conclusion: Americans don’t like their current political leadership.

In 1978, mid-term voting participation stood at 39%, rising to 41.1% in the 1994 GOP tsunami, to 41% in 2010, and finally 50.3% last year. 

HPI’s analysis

On the basic metrics of employment, a modest increase in wages, relatively low inflation and interest rates (though the Fed has ratcheted them up three times in the past year), President Trump should be much more popular. It’s noteworthy that we are not in a “hot” war, though we have taken casualties in Syria and Afghanistan in recent weeks.

There are troubling statistics with the decrease in life expectancy and birth rates, and the extremely troubling rise in overdose deaths.

It’s noteworthy that violent and property crimes are down significantly, but President Trump began his 2016 presidential campaign painting a dystopian view of safety in America, continuing through his Republican National Convention acceptance speech, his 2017 inaugural address and Tuesday’s State of the Union. He continually used words like “horrible” and “terrible” in portraying the threat from immigrants, as well as crime rates.

In his inaugural address, Trump declared that “for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists” before declaring, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” In his GOP acceptance speech, he declared, “I alone can fix it.”

On Tuesday night, Trump rightly projected the economy, saying, “Our country is vibrant and our economy is thriving like never before. On Friday, it was announced that we added another 304,000 jobs last month alone — almost double the number expected. An economic miracle is taking place in the United States.”

But then he shifted to that which is gnawing at his approval, saying, “The only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

Some in Congress took that assertion as a threat. From my perspective, he took his chief attribute with the economy and wedded it to the circumstances that are casting deep shadows on his approval, the Russia collusion probe and the array of investigations into his family organization, businesses and inaugural committee conducted by the Southern District of New York.

His best line of the night was, “Great nations don’t fight endless wars.”

There was that weird moment when he said, “As we work to defend our people’s safety, we must also ensure our economic resurgence continues at a rapid pace. No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58% of the newly created jobs last year.” This brought the white-clad House Democratic freshman class to their feet.

“You weren’t supposed to do that,” a flustered Trump said. “Thank you very much. All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.” As the freshman class continued to cheer, Trump rebounded, saying, “Don’t sit yet, you’re going to like this. And exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before. That’s great. Really great. And congratulations.”

In making his case for the border wall, Trump put it in the context of an “urgent national crisis” saying, “Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border.” He said he had ordered “another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught” and then cast it as a “a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all America.” 

He used El Paso as his proof point, portraying it “as one of our nation’s most dangerous cities.” It earned the rebuke of El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles, who said, “The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ... considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built. President Trump continues to give a false narrative about a great city that truly represents what this great nation is all about.” 

That is either bad staff work or ignorance.

Trump warned of “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers” and added, “As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.” It was a similar tactic he used during the homestretch of the mid-terms, and while he preserved the GOP Senate majority due to the red-state cycle advantage, he saw more than 40 seats lost in the House.

On the tariff front, Trump said he was working on a trade deal with Chinese President Xi while a deadline approaches in March that could see increased tariffs continue to hammer Hoosier manufacturers and farmers. On this front, Trump is clearly on the clock. He also harkened the “catastrophe known as NAFTA” and invoked “the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by the signing of NAFTA.” But if you talk to Hoosier agriculture and manufacturing leaders, NAFTA is considered a net positive. They are relieved that Trump evolved NAFTA into a new trade accord with Canada and Mexico.

In the final portion of his speech, Trump curried favor with his evangelical base by criticizing the current New York abortion law and lauding his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

On the foreign policy front, he announced a Feb. 27-28 summit in Vietnam with North Korean despot Kim Jong Un. He denounced “socialism.” And he advocated what is essentially a new arms race with the Russians after pulling out of the INF Treaty late last week. 

“While we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms,” Trump said. “It’s been going on for many years. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. We really have no choice. Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.” That decision has brought alarm from experts on U.S./Russian relations such as former Sens. Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn, who spent decades working to limit nuclear, biological and chemical weapons across the globe (See page 9).

The White House tried to set expectations for an address seeking “bipartisanship” and “comity.” With a second shutdown looming in just days, Senate Republicans sounding alarms and warning him not to declare a national emergency over the southern border (which he didn’t Tuesday night), and Trump’s penchant for the “art of the deal” missing in action, this address could be seen as a missed opportunity by the president to burnish the good economy and relative security in the minds of voters and secure a deal to keep the federal government open.

We shall know soon enough.