President Donald Trump is trying out a new campaign slogan: “How’s your 401(k) doing?” The answer for more than half of Americans is that they don’t have one.
Trump has tested out the line this month at a fundraiser, a campaign rally and in a White House meeting, predicting that the rising U.S. stock market will help him win re-election. But only about 45% of private-sector workers participate in any employer-sponsored retirement plan, and the lower-income workers in Trump’s political base are the least likely to hold money in such an account, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Trump mentions the stock market almost daily in tweets or public remarks, taking direct credit for record highs by the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other indexes. But only about 14% of U.S. families directly own stocks, an asset class dominated by the country’s top earners, according to the Federal Reserve.
Meanwhile, the president has also rolled back efforts to expand retirement savings options to more middle-class and low-income workers.
For a president propelled into office in no small part by resentment that a broad swath of the country has been left behind while an entrenched establishment prospers, continual references to the stock market and 401(k) accounts risk alienating his supporters, said Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama.
“As a political slogan, ‘how is your 401(k) doing?’ suggests he’s most interested in the one-third of people who have a 401(k),” said Goolsbee, who teaches economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “The more you highlight how great that group of financial winners is doing, you at least run the risk of angering and irritating the very people who revolted against what they perceived as the financial and political elites in the first place.”
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump’s statements reflect “a strong economy” that is “good news for everyone.”
“For the Americans that don’t have the opportunity to invest in a 401(k) plan or who choose not to, the Trump agenda of lower taxes, higher wages, and better jobs allows them to save more on their own, and potentially have a better chance of finding a job in the future that provides those benefits,” Walters added in an emailed statement.
Unpopular Tax Plan
An October Politico/Morning Consult poll found that only a third of voters think Trump “cares about people like me.” Trump’s tax overhaul, which Congress may send to his desk this week, is opposed by a two-to-one margin because independent analyses have found it largely benefits the wealthy, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Dec. 13.
Trump said he stumbled upon the new campaign slogan as he was preparing to speak to donors at Cipriani restaurant in New York earlier this month. Trump said that a law enforcement officer backstage at the fundraiser sparked the idea, but he didn’t identify the person by name.
“One great gentleman came up and he said, ‘Sir, I want to thank you.’ I said ‘what did I do for you?”’ Trump said on Dec. 2. “He said, ‘my 401(k) is up 40%.’ And I never thought of it. You know, I tell you, he gave me one of the great campaign lines. It’s called ‘How is your 401(k) doing?”’
Since then, Trump has tested the line at a Florida campaign rally and even asked members of the media about their own retirement accounts during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
“And, by the way, how are your 401(k)s doing?” Trump said during a Dec. 8 rally in Pensacola, Florida, where median household income is about $46,000. “Not too bad, right?”
The line was met with light applause.