December 2016 column
Robeson County had an 89 percent Democratic registration when I arrived in 2003. Last month Robeson County voters preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton by nearly 5 percent. So, what will a President Trump mean for Robeson County? The short answer is, no one knows. Here are some of the major factors that will play into the outcome.
The overriding negative factor is that we will likely have a recession. It is already “baked in” by current policies and will be extremely difficult to avoid, in my judgment. Many people don’t realize that major economic policies don’t show their ultimate effects for a few years.
It’s hard to explain how artificially propped up our economy has been for the past seven to eight years. Imagine that over that period you had a credit card with a zero percent interest rate, could buy what you wanted, and when the bill came each month, you simply printed the money you needed to pay the bill on your own printer.
That’s basically what it has been like with the stimulus, quantitative easing, and Federal Reserve Bank manipulation of interest rates. Despite these efforts to goose economic growth, President Obama will be the first president in history to leave office without experiencing 3 percent gross national product growth during a single year of his administration. When interest rates are freed and move to the market rate, the annual interest payment on the national debt could easily quadruple, limiting spending opportunities on many projects and policies that Americans care about. This will have a huge negative effect on Robeson County because the poorest counties suffer the worst during economic downturns.
President Trump will attempt several changes that could have a positive impact on Robeson County. First, his focus will be on creating jobs, which will mean rolling back thousands of pages of job-killing regulations added in recent years. He may try various ways of making it more difficult for American companies to move jobs overseas and then import the finished goods. Ford Motor Company has already announced it has cancelled plans to move manufacturing jobs from Kentucky to Mexico.
I expect that several job-killing aspects of the Affordable Care Act will be modified. So many of my adult students at UNCP and FSU lost their full-time jobs and were reduced to part-time workers of at most 30 hours a week, losing even modest benefits such as vacation pay. These modifications will allow full-time job creation for employers in the county ranging from Sanderson Farms to Hunt Pizza.
Although not a federal issue, expect the Atlantic Coast pipeline project to gain pace, adding jobs for Robeson County. A clear message from the national election is that people want job creation. Many of the elite of this country wanted their preferred policies enacted without considering the impact on the working people. That sentiment seems to be changing and even the Democrats are trying to reconnect with labor.
The only way to get people in Robeson County to be more gainfully employed is if we have economic growth at more than an anemic pace. Let’s hope the recession can be avoided and that the years ahead will be much better for the people of Robeson County.
Eric Dent is Endowed Chair Professor of Ethics at Florida Gulf Coast University.