Donald Trump has painted a dark picture of the U.S. economy on the campaign trail, saying that unemployment is actually above 20% and that trading partners like China and Mexico are "ripping" the U.S. off, taking jobs and money from Americans. But new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday contradict these claims. According to the data, people are making more money today than they were a year ago and fewer are in poverty.
In 2015, real median household incomes rose by 5.2% in 2015 to $56,516 from $53,718, marking the first household increase since 2007. The number of people in poverty fell by 3.5 million, and the poverty rate decreased by 1.2 percentage points -- the largest drop since 1999, according to the Census Bureau. The number of full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.4 million, and in a victory for Obamacare, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage was 9.1%, down from 10.4% in 2014.
"The data released today show an economy that is working better for working families," said Aaron Klein, fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution and former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Trump has offered a dim view of the U.S. economy, repeatedly painting a picture of a country dragged down by extreme poverty, nearly-complete joblessness and crushing debt. In a June policy speech in Detroit, he maligned what he called the "job-killing-tax-raising, poverty-inducing Obama-Clinton agenda," and he recently accused the Federal Reserve of creating a "false economy."
But Census Bureau numbers suggest these fears are likely being overstated.
"Of course, there's more to be done, but the apocalyptic world view seems entirely misplaced," said University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers in an email.
While good news for Americans, the positive economic picture is bad news for the Trump campaign.
"Running on a platform of 'I'll fix this broken economy' might have made sense when unemployment was shooting up over 10% in 2008/9. But it's now below 5%, and the economy continues to create jobs," said Wolfers. "Increasingly, people who want jobs can find them, and they're getting wage rises, too. Economic anxiety was a huge issue seven years ago. It's hard to see it resonating today."
Trump's own policies, which include tax cuts that largely benefit the rich, could make his positioning even worse, according to George Washington University economist Neil H. Buchanan. The Census Bureau report indicates that the problem of income inequality is not getting better or worse.
"Trump's entire economic game plan is nothing but trickle-down tax cuts tilted heavily toward the rich. He cannot credibly complain about rising inequality," he said.
Could Tuesday's data help Clinton at the ballot box? Greg Daco, head of U.S. macroeconomics at Oxford Economics, said in an email it's likely "not a major swing factor." But others say it could be impactful.
"It provides evidence for Democrats to push back against his gloomy assessment of the economy, particularly to more moderate independent and Republican voters. This could be helpful to Democrats seeking to convince these voters to continue with overall policy agenda we had for last eight years," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
Clinton appears well aware, with her campaign retweeting one of Wolfers' tweets on Tuesday's data.
"The Democrats can now go into the stretch run of the campaign saying, 'Things have finally turned around, no matter how hard Republicans tried to hobble Obama's economic policy. If you put us back in charge, we'll stick with what works,'" said Buchanan. "I would never want to be a staffer on a political campaign, but I would imagine that every Democratic campaign manager is having a very good day today."
To be sure, despite being far off from Trump's rhetoric, the economic picture from the Census report is not entirely rosy.
Real median income is still 1.6% lower than in 2007, and median income dropped for those living outside metropolitan areas. Women's income is 80% of what is generally earned by men (a slight uptick from the usual 79-cents-on-the-dollar statistic), and poverty still disproportionately impacts minorities and women.