Updated Jan 18, 2024 - Economy

Why Trump supporters give him a pass on record-high unemployment

Animated illustration of Trump's silhouette filled with television static

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Supporters of former President Donald Trump cite his economic record as a reason to vote for him, but that's a bit puzzling.

Why it matters: Trump's economic record is only good if you leave off what happened from March 2020 to the end of his administration.

Zoom in: When the pandemic hit, the jobless rate soared to a record 14.8% — a level not seen since the Great Depression.

  • The rate did come down a bit after that, but when Trump left office there were fewer jobs in the country than when he got there — the first time that's happened since Herbert Hoover was president.
  • There were long lines at food pantries. Gas prices fell a lot — to $1.77 a gallon in April 2020 — something both the former president and his supporters note. But that was because the country was on lockdown and demand for gas plummeted.

The big picture: Trump supporters may be just giving him a pass on the pandemic economy, as the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes.

  • That's understandable. Countries around the world faced similar struggles to the U.S. at the time.
  • Inflation is the main economic issue Trump supporters have now, Axios' Sophia Cai reports.

Yes, but: It's worth noting that inflation was also the result of the pandemic's economic disruption.

Zoom out: We may have memory-holed just how awful things were back in 2020, a traumatic time that most Americans would probably like to forget.

  • "[W]e may also try to forget certain memories to protect ourselves from the trauma that we've been processing over the last three years," neuroscientists and psychiatrists told ABC News in a piece last spring exploring why people may be forgetting their pandemic memories.
  • It's similar to what happened more than a century ago in the wake of the Great Influenza pandemic — cultural memory of that time quickly faded away, as Felix Salmon writes in his book "The Phoenix Economy."

State of play: Many look to pre-COVID times with nostalgia and longing — and possibly associate Trump with that time.

  • Trump's supporters tend to reminisce about his time in office, Sophia reports.
  • "I thought he was an excellent president. [Trump] brought unemployment to record [lows]," Denise Jones, from Davenport, Iowa, told Axios at a recent Trump campaign event. "Inflation was very low under him. There were no wars under him."
  • "I'm real happy with how the country used to be," a Trump supporter told "The Daily" Monday night in Iowa.

"The country was really running smooth under [Trump]. I think that the economy was a crap ton better — we weren't paying $6 a carton for eggs." Chip Shaw, a 46-year-old information technology specialist in Rome, Ga. told the New York Times. (Egg prices have fallen to $2.50 a dozen since their peak early last year.)

  • "His track record speaks for itself and I think we need him back to get the economy fixed," Osmund "Bud" Jermeland, a 65-year-old farm equipment sales manager and county GOP chairman, told the Wall Street Journal.
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