Volunteers distribute food to the unemployed in Orlando, Florida
(Image: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Donald Trump has made economic history: the US has fewer jobs now than when his term started.

Trump is the third Republican president in a row to leave office with a higher jobless rate than on his inauguration. But he’s the first to leave with a diminished total number of jobs.

Released late last week, American workforce data shows that 140,000 jobs were lost in December and that the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.7%. But thanks to the pandemic, and Trump’s handling of it, the unemployment rate is now two percentage points higher than when Trump took the oath of office. Four million Americans have joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

COVID-19 has battered low-wage jobs. Half a million jobs were lost in the major area of low-wage employment, such as leisure and hospitality.

The December jobs report shows that employment in this sector is 18.5% lower than when Trump started his presidency in January 2017. Back then, he promised to protect manufacturing jobs, especially steel. But there were 60,000 fewer jobs in manufacturing in December than four years earlier.

Employment in the steel industry fell 6% in the same time.

Coal industry employment — another group of workers whose jobs Trump promised to protect and expand — fell 12.6% from the end of 2016 to the end of 2020.

US steel production was all but flat from the end of 2016: 6.2 million tonnes in November of that year, to 6.12 million tonnes (the latest from the World Steel Association) in November 2020. That’s despite a 25% tariff on mostly imports of Chinese steel.

Coal production has fallen every year since 2016 as renewables have grown. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that 2019 was the first time in 130 years that renewables produced more electricity in the US than coal.

“This outcome mainly reflects the continued decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade as well as growth in renewable energy, mostly from wind and solar,” it noted. “Compared with 2018, coal consumption in the United States decreased nearly 15%, and total renewable energy consumption grew by 1%.”

That was not supposed to happen under Trump, who did everything to remove any assistance for renewables and promote the production and consumption of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil.

But that had no impact on coal. Peabody Energy, one of the Trump’s strongest supporters, went broke during his reign. Last week the EIA said that the US third quarter 2020 coal production (of 135.8 million tonnes) was 32% lower than the third quarter production in 2016 (63.3 million tonnes).

While 140,000 jobs were lost overall last month, nearly 500,000 were shed in leisure and hospitality. Total employment in the sector is 18.5% lower than when Trump took the oath of office.

And what about manufacturing? There are 60,000 fewer factory jobs today than in January 2017.

Trump often pointed to the improving job market for African Americans in speeches and the presidential debates last year, claiming no other president had done as much to improve their lot. Data from the US Department of Labor confirms that the Black jobless rate did fall to 5.2% in late 2019, with Black employment levels rising 8.1% from where they were when Barack Obama left office. By contrast, job growth over that span for white Americans was 3.3% (albeit from a much larger base).

Unfortunately COVID-19 wiped out all of those gains, with employment levels for both groups currently below where they were when Trump first took office.