But the lesson from the economic successes of the last four years is not what Rubio and Hawley would have you believe. In fact, it might just be the opposite.
First, let’s look at what those successes were. Before the 2016 election, economists were pessimistic about the country’s growth potential. Unemployment was thought to be close to plateauing at a floor of 5 percent. Then the country experienced forecast-busting GDP growth of 2.9 percent in 2018 and 2.3 percent in 2019, vastly exceeding 2016 Congressional Budget Office predictions of 2.2 percent and 1.7 percent for those years. Unemployment plunged to just 3.5 percent before the onset of the pandemic, its lowest level in five decades. As important, the number of Americans choosing to participate in the workforce bucked dismal forecasts, with strong, sustained growth in prime-age labor force participation for the first time since the 1980s.
Who benefited from this tight labor market and faster-than-expected growth? The working class Americans whom the economic populists say the GOP should champion. Those with less than a high-school diploma saw their unemployment rate bottom out at 4.8 percent in September 2019, the lowest level ever recorded since that series began in 1992. Those who graduated high school or had “some college” education saw unemployment rates fall within touching distance of their lowest levels over the same period, achieved in 2000 and 2001. As Trump was fond of pointing out during the campaign, African American and Hispanic unemployment rates, which have been measured for much longer, fell to their lowest levels since the early 1970s.