Trump’s economy wasn’t the greatest ever. Biden’s successes are overshadowed by inflation.

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“We had the greatest economy in the history of our country,” Trump said last month in his debate with Biden. “We had never done so well.”

Not true.

A review of the facts might help undecided voters assess whether Trump’s economic record warrants a second chance regardless of whether Biden stays in the race.


Caveat emptor: Assigning presidents credit or blame for the economy is a fraught exercise.

While tax, spending, and other government policies are important, US business cycles are driven by forces — such as interest rates, global trade, technology, geopolitical events — that are largely beyond the White House’s control.

  • Comparing the Trump and Biden economies is especially hard because of the massive disruptions caused by COVID.
  • Focusing on Trump’s first three years in office (2017-2019), before the pandemic’s onset in March 2020, makes for cleaner comparisons. So does excluding 2021′s unprecedented rebound from Biden’s record.
  • Trump’s record versus Barack Obama’s second term is in many ways just as relevant.

Trump inherited a sound economy.

  • During Obama’s second term, gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic growth, expanded at an average annualized rate of 2.5 percent a quarter. That was up from an average of 1.5 percent in his first term, which began during the Great Recession.
  • Unemployment, which hit 10 percent in the fallout from the recession, was 4.7 percent when Obama left office, roughly the same as before the financial crisis.

GDP growth under Trump was strong but not historic. During Trump’s first three years, the economy grew by an average of 2.8 percent a quarter. That was a pickup from Obama’s final term but only matched the average growth posted in the prior 35 years, starting when Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981.

  • The jobless rate fell to 3.5 percent at the end of 2019, the lowest since the late 1960s.

Trump’s signature tax cuts delivered mixed results. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act led to increases in corporate investment and modestly higher wages for workers, according to a 2024 study by researchers from Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, and US Treasury Department.

But as The New York Times reported earlier this year, the study showed that investment and income gains were smaller than predicted by Republicans and the tax package failed to pay for itself as they promised, adding to the federal deficit.

Wage growth slowed under Trump. Median weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, rose 3.5 percent from 2017 to 2019. That compared with an increase of 4.5 percent over the last three years of Obama’s presidency.


The trade deficit widened under Trump. Despite his tough talk about cutting more advantageous trade deals and the imposition of tariffs on China and the European Union, imports increased and the trade gap grew larger.

  • Mexico surpassed China as the leading supplier of US imports after Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods.
  • American farmers were hit hard by China’s retaliatory tariffs on US agricultural goods, though Trump sought to mitigate the impact with $23.6 billion in direct farm aid in 2019, more than double two years earlier.

The post-pandemic economic rebound continued under Biden. GDP expanded at an average annualized rate of 1.9 percent a quarter in 2022 and 2023, a period when the Federal Reserve was hiking interest rates to cool the economy and rein in inflation.

  • Quarterly GDP growth averaged 5.4 percent in 2021.
  • Unemployment was 4.1 percent last month, down from 6.4 percent when Biden took office. It fell to 3.4 percent earlier in his term.

Biden’s record is marred by soaring inflation and high interest rates. The Consumer Price Index is 20 percent higher than it was in February 2020.

  • The consensus among economists is that pandemic-related factors were largely responsible for driving costs higher, including supply constraints, a shortage of workers, and shifts in consumer spending patterns. Heavy stimulus spending under Biden was a secondary cause.

Oil prices are up 70 percent since Biden took office. Critics like to blame the administration’s antipathy toward fossil fuels as the cause, but the primary reasons are increasing global demand, OPEC supply restraints, and the war in Ukraine.

  • US production of oil and gas set records in 2023.
  • Federal onshore drilling permit approvals rose under Biden.

There are significant differences between the two candidates’ policies.

  • Trump emphasized cutting taxes and regulations, which mostly helped businesses and the wealthy, and promises more of the same if reelected.
  • Biden has focused on investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and critical technologies such as advanced semiconductors, and vows to raise taxes on the wealthy to support low- and middle-income families if he wins another term.

Trump’s economic successes are exaggerated. So are Biden’s failures.

Larry Edelman can be reached at