President Trump would not have won in 2016 had he not persuaded people who were hurting that he could improve their lives. He convinced enough voters in key states that they would have better jobs, healthcare, and housing if he were elected.
Because the economy has continued to grow during his tenure in the Oval Office – and unemployment drop – you may think that those voters got what they needed. The truth isn’t that cut and dry, though, and there are ominous winds blowing.
The president likes to point to a buoyant stock market as a sign of his success, but it has been behaving oddly. In 2019, a year of escalating trade wars, possible military conflict with Iran, and warning signs of a global economic slowdown, the S&P 500 is up 17% to date. With stocks worth about 3.5 times more now than ten years ago, some of that wealth comes out of the market to be invested in other ways. Those investments are fundamentally changing how the system works, and while not all change is bad, these are beginning to hurt some of those Trump voters who got him elected. Others are feeling the pain, too, but rural residents have less of a social safety net should things go south.
Investment #1: Houses
A lot of wealth is being redirected into the housing and rental markets. Those “We Buy Houses” signs you may see at intersections used to be for a local company looking to buy and flip a few fixer-uppers. That’s changed. Now, billion-dollar tech companies are using hundreds of millions of dollars – including a great deal of Saudi and Kuwaiti money – to make 3-8% by quickly buying and selling perfectly good houses that their algorithms identify as exploitable. As a result, housing prices are going up which keeps first-time homebuyers who can’t pay cash at bay and raises rents faster than wages.
Investment #2: Business Loans
There is so much wealth to be invested that the nature of business loans has changed. Borrowers now dictate the loan terms since there are so many lenders searching for a high-income stream of revenue. Consequently, a great number of businesses – both big and small – hold loans that can’t be paid off without borrowing new money. The lenders recognize the risk and have taken action to protect themselves. They have bundled these risky loans into collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) and sold them to investors — just as they had done 15-20 years ago with mortgage-backed securities which, of course, led to the Great Recession.
Investment #3: Elected Officials
For the truly wealthy – at least those who do not wish to pay taxes – there is probably no better investment than large political donations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, for example, offered a fantastic return on investment. For someone earning $100 million, that Trump tax cut reduced his or her tax bill by $2.6 million per year. That’s a 160% annual return on a $1 million donation to a republican SuperPAC.
There are other ways that fiscally conservative elected officials help the wealthy whose money got them into office. With little support for Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and other safety net programs, they keep the potential workforce desperate, and consequently, exploitable by the “job creators.” Desperation translates into fewer unionized workers, lower wages, and less spending on worker welfare programs. Not every employer treats their employees this way, but the policies allow for such abuse.
And speaking of desperation, nearly 5 million adults in republican-led states that did not expand Medicaid – many of them Trump voters – are losing access to healthcare because there is not enough money to support rural doctors and hospitals. That also affects people with insurance, of course. It doesn’t matter whether you can pay for the service if you have to travel hours to find medical care. No wonder healthcare looks to be one of the top issues in the 2020 election.
So, how are things going for that Trump voter who was hurting in 2016? With lower unemployment and higher local minimum wage laws, their jobs may be better, but not better than what they had a couple decades ago. Housing and healthcare, however, are getting worse, and with the Trump administration’s legislative and legal attacks on the Affordable Care Act, healthcare could really take a beating. Since hospitals are major employers in every community they reside, expect both jobs and housing to suffer every time a medical provider fails.
And what will happen during the next recession? Those business loans are troubling and almost guarantee that the next recession will be a bank-based one, just as in 2008 and the one that led to the Great Depression. Regardless of the reason, when banks stop lending, bad things happen to businesses and their soon-to-be ex-employees. Republicans also use these occasions to reduce spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance and government-paid healthcare. The only ones who tend to do well during such times are those with plenty of diversified investments and the ability to snap up foreclosed houses and other discounted assets.
That’s right. The rich will get richer and the poor and middle class will suffer from the next recession.
At least this helps explain why republicans no longer seem concerned about a trillion-dollar budget deficit during a strongly performing economy. Most of that deficit is a result of tax cuts for their wealthy donors and those same donors will get richer when the deficit crests $2 trillion during the next recession. It’s a win-win for the top 0.01% and the politicians to whom they donate.