Ahead Of The State Of The Union, The Economy Is Strong The U.S. economy is humming as President Trump prepares to speak on the state of the union. The stock market is up, and unemployment is down. Some of these gains began before Trump took office.
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As Trump Prepares For Big Speech, State Of The Economy Is Strong

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As Trump Prepares For Big Speech, State Of The Economy Is Strong

As Trump Prepares For Big Speech, State Of The Economy Is Strong

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump will make the economy a big focus of his State of the Union address tomorrow. Aides say Trump will highlight what the White House sees as big accomplishments. Those include the new tax law, a rising stock market and low unemployment. Polls show Americans are feeling better about the economy than at any time in the last 17 years although they are not necessarily giving Trump the credit for that. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump has been calling himself a cheerleader for the U.S. economy. In Davos, Switzerland, last week, he told wealthy investors there's never been a better time to hire and do business in the United States.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: After years of stagnation, the United States is once again experiencing strong economic growth.

HORSLEY: Just about the time Trump was speaking, though, the Commerce Department reported growth actually slowed somewhat in the final months of 2017. For the full year, the economy grew by about 2.3 percent. That's faster than 2016 but slower than the two previous years. The U.S. is still adding jobs at a healthy pace, albeit slower than in President Obama's last year. That's not surprising since the economy is close to full employment. U.S. economist Joel Prakken of IHS Markit says the overall picture is pretty good.

JOEL PRAKKEN: We're entering 2018 with pretty good momentum and some fiscal stimulus coming from the tax cut. All of that suggests to me that 2018 should be a solid year.

HORSLEY: Wall Street, as the president likes to point out, has done especially well. Last year, the Dow Jones, the S&P 500 and NASDAQ all logged their biggest gains in four years.

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TRUMP: The stock market is smashing one record after another and has added more than $7 trillion in new wealth since my election.

HORSLEY: That's great for investors and anyone with stock-based savings. But nearly half of all Americans don't own any stocks. Workers in that category are still waiting for their big pay raise. Wages rose by an average of 2 and a half percent last year, barely keeping ahead of inflation as they've done throughout the recovery. Prakken says the newly signed tax cut will provide a modest boost in workers' take-home pay this coming year. He's doubtful, though, it will provide the long-term windfall that the president and his allies have been promising.

PRAKKEN: I can see no way to get to the sorts of figures that the administration has advanced, and I don't know many people in my line of work who do either.

HORSLEY: President Trump is also likely to tout the success of America's gas and oil industries. Energy historian Dan Yergin says thanks to technological gains, the U.S. could soon become the biggest oil producer in the world.

DANIEL YERGIN: Global energy market has been turned upside down by what's happening in the United States in terms of shale gas and shale oil.

HORSLEY: Cheap natural gas has been a boon for U.S. manufacturers. American factories added nearly 200,000 jobs last year, their strongest showing since 2014. In a sign of how far the economic recovery has come, some employers now say they're having trouble finding enough workers to fill the available jobs. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue warned in his own annual recap that labor shortage could get worse if the administration follows through on plans to limit both legal and illegal immigration.

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TOM DONOHUE: We can't strengthen and sustain economic growth if we don't expand and support our workforce.

HORSLEY: Donohue also worries about the president's trade policies and his threats to pull out of trade deals like NAFTA. Last week, Trump ordered new tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels. And he warned more protectionist measures could be coming.

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TRUMP: Our companies will not be taken advantage of anymore, and our workers are going to have lots of really great jobs with products that are going to be made in the good old USA.

HORSLEY: Despite the president's tough talk on trade, in the first 11 months of last year, the nation's trade deficit widened by 12 percent. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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