WASHINGTON – Through the first two years of his presidency, Donald Trump has had one very reliable ally: an excellent economy. Now, as the presidential campaign approaches, there are growing questions about what the economic landscape may look like in November 2020.

By some measures, the nation’s economic outlook is positively sunny, but on the horizon, there also seem to be gathering clouds.

From a positive point of view, you can start with the historically low unemployment rate.

That January figure, 4 percent, matches roughly where the number has been since January 2018. In that time, unemployment has been bouncing between 4.1 and 3.7 percent. That’s a solid stretch of low numbers.

The last time the unemployment number was in that ballpark? Late 2000, when the rate rang in at 3.9 percent. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to the late 1960s.

When people have jobs and they know jobs are available they tend to feel good about their current economic situation and the times ahead. And poll data from Gallup show that is the case today too.

A January Gallup survey found that 69 percent of Americans believe they will be better off financially next year than they are currently.

The last time the “better off next year” number was that high was back in May 2002, when 69 percent of Americans had the same positive feelings about the year ahead. And the figure has been higher only once, in March of 1998 when it peaked at 71 percent.

Low unemployment. Good feelings. Those are things that matter to voters on Election Day.

But Election Day is still 21 months off and if there are economic concerns at the White House, they likely center on the future. The U.S. economy is cyclical. And though the nation is still in the midst of a remarkable economic expansion – it’s been some 116 months since the last recession ended in 2009 – there are warning flags in some of the latest data.

This week the New York branch of the Federal Reserve Bank announced that about 7 million Americans were delinquent by 90 days or more on their auto loans. That number was a record high, and the rate of auto loan delinquencies was the highest it has been since 2010, just as the Great Recession ended.

As of December 2018, Americans held a total $1.044 trillion in unpaid revolving debt. That’s a record and it was up $20 billion from the end of 2017. Overall the number has been rising pretty consistently since 2013, but it crossed the $1 trillion mark in September 2017 and has not since dropped below.


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