How Trump-Clinton economic speeches stack up against each other

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters about her plans for the economy and job creation during a rally at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at the IBEW Local 357 Hall August 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
John Gruzinksi | AFP | Getty Images
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters about her plans for the economy and job creation during a rally at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at the IBEW Local 357 Hall August 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump describe the many ways they're going to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, middle-class voters really want to hear about two issues.

We want better jobs, and we want a raise.

Both candidates seem to have gotten the message. Clinton was to lay out her economic plan Thursday in Michigan, three days after Trump did so in Detroit, once the epicenter of opportunity for the American middle class.

They're hoping to win over the millions of American voters living paycheck to paycheck who aspire to a better economic future.

"We now begin a great national conversation about economic renewal for America," Trump told the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. "It's a conversation about how to make America great again for everyone ... especially for those who have the very least."

At a campaign rally in St. Petersburg, Florida, Clinton shot back that Trump's plan amounted to repackaged "trickle-down economics" written by economic advisors consisting of "hedge fund guys, billionaire guys, (and) six guys named Steve."

"Now, they tried to make his old, tired ideas sound new," she said.

The former secretary of state is scheduled to outline her plans for expanding higher-wage payrolls for working-class voters midday Thursday at a manufacturing facility in Warren, Michigan.

American voters are clearly looking for a new president who can improve the economic well-being of middle-class households.

Some seven years after the worst recession since the 1930s, when you ask American voters how well the economy is doing, the answer will likely depend a lot on whether they have a job that can pay their bills.

That may be why the subject of job creation — and which party has the better track record — has been one of the most widely issues debated during this year's presidential campaign.

Since the worst of the Great Repression, the nation's job market has put millions of Americans back to work. But voters remain uneasy about the size of their paychecks and the prospects of holding onto their jobs.

Now, as the campaign approaches the November election, voters are sizing up the two major candidates, in part, based on how well their respective parties have done in creating enough jobs to keeping America working.

To better assess those records, analyzed the economic performance of the last six presidents using a variety of measures, calculating the net change from the start of a president's term to the end, beginning with Jimmy Carter's inauguration in January 1977.

Here's how the past six presidential administrations have stacked up.

Since the job market bottomed in January 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has produced more than 14 million jobs. That's pushed the total level of payrolls some 5.7 million higher than when the recession hit in late 2007.

Memories of that wave of job losses are still fresh on many voters' minds. But as recessions go, it was not the worst job market in the last 40 years.

That distinction goes to the end of the Great Inflation, the late 1970s economy that cost Carter the 1980 election to Republican Ronald Reagan. In November 1980, as voters were going to the polls, the jobless rate peaked at 10.8 percent, the result of back-to-back recessions that followed a surge in interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve to tame double-digit price increases.

The plan worked, and the Reagan administration made good on its pledge to restore "Morning in America." The economy recovered, and the jobless rate plunged to 5.0 percent by the end of the decade.

During the worst of the recession under President Barack Obama's watch, the jobless rate peaked at 10 percent and has since fallen in half.

Not surprisingly, the presidents' records on job growth stack up roughly the same. During the Clinton administration, total payrolls grew by nearly 21 percent, slightly better than Reagan's 17 percent gain.

The Carter administration had the third-best record, boosting payrolls by 12 percent. If he had kept that up for a second term, he would have topped the list of job creators. Both Bushes produced the smallest gains.

The Obama administration, which began in the midst of massive layoffs from the Great Recession, has presided over a job market turnaround. Overall employment is about 8 percent higher than when he took office.

Jobs gains are only one measure of the health of the labor market. On Monday, Trump cited a statistic that, taken by itself, sounds alarming.

"We have the lowest labor force participation rates in four decades," he said. "One in 5 American households do not have a single member in the labor force. "

But that doesn't mean that the "real" unemployment rate today is 20 percent.

It's true that the portion of the total American population who are working or unemployed and actively looking for work hit a 38-year low in 2015. After steady gains during the Carter, Reagan and first Bush administrations, the labor-force participation rate peaked during the Clinton administration and began a long decline, with the steepest losses coming during the Obama years.

After bottoming in September, however, it has finally begun rising again.

The long-term drop in labor force participation was driven by a number of forces, including a historic demographic shift in the U.S. population.

Since the 1990s, Americans workers have left the labor force for a variety of reasons. Some are boomers who have retired; more recently, some low-skilled workers have so discouraged looking for a job that they've given up.

Meanwhile, many millennials, those born between about 1980 and 1995, are still in college or graduate school and haven't yet entered the labor force. (The Great Recession may have expanded enrollments, as students sought to sit out the dismal job market and acquire new skills.)

Second to having a job, American workers are most concerned about wages, which have stagnated during much of the recovery from the Great Recession.

In real terms (adjusted for inflation), hourly compensation saw the biggest gains during the Clinton-era '90s boom (up 13 percent), followed by the 1980s expansion under Reagan (up 9 percent). Wages grew by about 7 percent in real terms during both the second Bush administration and the Obama administration, which has seen the fastest wage gains during his second term.

Stagnant wages have also widened the gap between the rich and poor, a major issue in political campaigns at all levels of government.

Several economic studies have found that one's sense of economic well-being owes as much to your own financial resources as it does to the wealth of your neighbors. You may be happy with a comfortable living standard — until your neighbor parks a boat in the driveway and you begin wondering why you can't afford one.

That's why the widening gap between rich and poor Americans has become a major theme of this year's presidential campaign.

That wealth gap, as measured by the Gini ratio, a widely used measure of income distribution, began rising during the Reagan administration. Despite the Obama administration's focus on closing the income gap, it has continued to expand under his watch.