JOHN YANG: On this Labor Day, the national holiday that celebrates the contributions of America’s working men and women, President Trump said tweeted: “We are building our future with American hands, American labor, American iron, aluminum and steel.”
Our William Brangham is talk about how President Trump is doing with his pledge to help workers — William.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s right John.
As you well know, the president was elected in no small part because he promise to revitalize jobs in America, especially manufacturing jobs.
So, for a look at how American labor has been doing in the Trump era, I talked earlier today with Steven Greenhouse. He covered the labor movement for The New York Times for many years, and he’s currently writing a book about its past and future.
And I started by asking him how the president, who’s a billionaire real estate developer from Manhattan, had struck such a strong chord with so many blue-collar workers in the election.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE, Contributor, The New York Times: My sense is President Trump was very smart in reading workers’ concerns and anxieties.
He saw that a lot of workers, especially blue-collar workers in the Midwest, were very concerned about stagnant wages, jobs lost to trade, closed factories. And he talked very directly and viscerally to them, saying, I’m going to do something about it. Hillary is not going to do enough about it. We’re going to bring back the jobs. We’re going to get tough with Mexico and China on trade.
And that really resonated with people.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, let’s talk a little bit about his record. The president has been talking about jobs a lot. He touts his record. He talks about the Carrier Corporation example. He talks about coal plants, renegotiating trade deals.
What has his record been on job creation and helping workers?
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: It’s unclear to me that he’s done much concretely to bring back jobs, except he’s been reducing regulations.
And I think that has encouraged many companies. We have seen over the past few months an increase in manufacturing jobs. And economists are wondering, why this big increase? You know, manufacturing jobs were increasing in Obama’s last year. They continue to increase.
The dollar has dropped a good bit since Donald Trump was elected. That encourages our exports. And I do think that Trump has excited a lot of business executives and the so-called animal spirits are flowing. And they’re thinking, let’s invest.
And he also has, you know, in some of the regulations he’s killed, he eliminated, delayed some regulations that help business, but hurt workers. He sought to delay and perhaps kill a regulation that would make overtime pay available to an additional four million workers.
He’s delayed regulations that would protect workers against very dangerous silica dust and beryllium. He’s helping Wall Street firms by delaying and perhaps canceling an Obama regulation that would require investment advisers, Wall Street advisers, to act in the best interest of workers and retirees when they’re handling retirement accounts.
He’s canceled an Obama administration regulation that requires federal contractors to disclose when they violate wage laws and race discrimination laws and sex discrimination laws.
So I think business has been very pleased that he’s eliminating regulations that might make them feel more ready to invest, but on the other hand, some of these moves have really not helped workers.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As you mentioned, a lot of employers would point to those regulations and say that those are the very things that hinder their ability to create jobs and to grow the economy and to grow the labor pool.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: There is truth that regulations often create disincentives to investment, but remembering this — President Trump ran on the platform of, I’m going to be a big friend of workers, I’m going to help you out.
And in virtually every regulation that he’s acted on, he’s acted for business and against workers. And he will say, and American business will say, this is good because it’s helping to create jobs.
On the other hand — and President Trump is boasting that, I have created over a million jobs, more than a million jobs have been created since I came into office.
But President Obama’s fans, economists will say, but actually the rate of job growth has been slightly slower under Trump, about 170,000 a month since January, than it was in Obama’s last six months. Now, it’s possible with all these regulations removed that job growth will increase in the next six months, a year, but we will see what happens.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There is a fair amount of polling out there, including a recent poll by Gallup, and indicates that workers, middle-class workers, feel that they are doing better.
They are comfortable about the jobs that are available. They don’t think they are going to be outsourced. They argue that they are doing better.
Do you think that that optimism is real, and should President Trump get some credit for that?
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: I think President Trump should get some credit. I think Obama should get some credit.
Remember, we had the worst economic recession since the Great Depression in 2007 until 2009. And the economy has really improved slowly, unevenly since 2009. And, you know, the unemployment rate is down to its lowest point in 16 years.
And Donald Trump gets some credit. Obama gets a lot of credit for that. And it’s understandable that workers are feeling pretty good, because, with unemployment so low, finally, finally they’re thinking they have steady jobs.
Wages are finally starting to increase, still way too slowly. Wages just increased just by one-tenth of 1 percent last month. They’re up 2.5 percent over the year, slightly more than the inflation rate. And that’s good.
But, again, economists are wondering, with the unemployment rate so low, you know, why aren’t wages going up more? When all these employers are saying I’m having a hard time finding people to fill jobs, why aren’t they paying more? Why aren’t wages going up more?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Steven Greenhouse, chronicler of the labor movement, thank you so much.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Nice to be here.