Weak job and wage growth weigh on these Trump states

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With the U.S. job market stronger than it has been in nearly two decades, you can expect President Donald Trump to tout his economic record as he stumps in this year’s midterm elections.

But a closer look at the state-level data shows that job growth has been uneven in the states that turned out for Trump. That could make it harder to convince some Trump supporters that the president’s economic policies are creating jobs fast enough.

The White House got yet another positive report Friday showing that U.S. job growth rose more than expected in June as manufacturers stepped up hiring. That was good news for a president who campaigned on a promise to generate more good-paying jobs for discouraged middle-class workers.

That promise may be harder to deliver, though, in states where the local jobless rate hasn’t fallen as far as the national headline number.

In West Virginia, where Trump has promised to bring back coal jobs, the jobless rate has edged higher since Trump took office, hitting 5.4 percent in May, the latest state-level jobless data available.

In Michigan, which Trump won by a razor-thin margin in 2016, the unemployment rate stood at 4.6 percent in May, up two-tenths of a percent from a year earlier. Unemployment has also risen in the past year in Trump states Alaska, Arkansas and North Dakota.

The jobless rate was also higher than the national average in Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, all states Trump carried in 2016.

Economists and other experts have warned that job gains could stall out if a Trump-initiated global trade war continues to widen.

On Friday, the White House followed through on a threat to slap higher tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports. China immediately retaliated with higher duties on U.S. farm products, including soybeans. That could pose a threat to job growth in states that voted for Trump that rely heavily on those exports, including Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina.

Trump has also imposed tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union, inviting retaliation from those major U.S. trading partners.

Wage gains have also been felt unevenly from one state to another. For all of 2017, the latest wage state-level data available, the average weekly wage in the U.S. gained 4.1 percent. But wages rose at less than half that pace, on a percentage basis, in Alaska, Kansas and Louisiana, all states Trump carried.

That could change later this year, giving GOP candidates running on Trump’s policies a strong talking point. With a record 6.7 million unfilled jobs in April, many economists are predicting that tight labor markets will begin pushing wages higher at a faster pace later this year.

States with stubbornly high unemployment rates could see those numbers fall later this year as the pool of “discouraged” workers returning to the labor force continues to shrink. Last month, the national jobless rate rose to 4 percent from an 18-year low of 3.8 percent in June as more people entered the labor force in a sign of confidence in their job prospects.

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