The Charleston area is wrapping up one of the best economic years in its history. The unprecedented unemployment rate for September was a remarkable 1.5 percent, with less than 6,000 people unemployed in a working population of nearly 390,000. It bounced up to 1.8 percent in October, still in record territory.
What has been true for Charleston was also true for South Carolina, which in November, had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.3 percent.
And what was true for 2019 is likely to be recreated in 2020. Nationwide, the decadelong economic expansion is expected to continue through the coming year, according to a panel of 57 economists consulted by The Wall Street Journal. It is already the longest period of job creation on record.
Charleston and South Carolina are ranked among the top regions in the nation for economic growth in the coming year.
And the nation’s new wealth is being shared more equitably. The Journal reports that the lowest-paid U.S. workers are getting bigger raises than others. The U.S. Department of Labor reported in November that average hourly earnings for non-supervisory workers grew 3.7 percent over the year, higher than the rate for all workers at 3.1 percent.
Unemployment rates for minorities are at the lowest they have been for more than a half-century.
While the economic expansion dates back to 2009, it has only been in the last two years that it has entered historic levels of employment. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office attributed the accelerated economic growth to provisions of the Trump administration’s tax reform. The pace of real economic growth has slowed from 3 percent in 2018 to an estimated 2.3 percent in 2019, a rate that is expected to continue next year. According to the CBO, the nation’s labor force is not expanding fast enough to allow higher rates of economic growth.
The performance of the economy in the past three years has surprised most economists, who did not anticipate such high employment. Politically, it has been tough to swallow for the Democratic Party, whose apologists have tried unconvincingly to give Barack Obama credit for the recent record-breaking growth. But this has been a Trump economy.
Mr. Trump’s recent announcement of a “phase one” trade deal with China and the expansion of U.S agriculture and other exports should help keep employment high and the economy humming next year. U.S. stocks have rallied to record highs on this optimism, as well as strong consumer spending, which has caused talk of a looming recession to fade.
Still, how long the good economic times can continue beyond 2020 remains open to question. Recently, Harvard Business School published a study claiming that the American political system has “squandered” the opportunity provided by the expansion to address serious shortcomings in such areas as immigration policy and future fiscal stability.
These remain important issues, but as long as gridlock governs Congress, they and other major issues are unlikely to be resolved, darkening the nation’s future. Whether that can be changed is now up to the nation’s voters.