The race for the White House has come down to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence versus former Vice President Joe Biden and his vice presidential nominee, California Sen. Kamala Harris. While initially Biden and Trump's battleground seemed to be issues of trade and middle class growth, now the candidates are focused on how the country will navigate the economic downturn created by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Another tragic twist was added to the campaign when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, which means that, if a successor is not appointed before the election, the election will now also determine who appoints her successor.ï»¿ï»¿
On Oct. 11, 2020, President Trump returned to the campaign trail after battling COVID-19. On Oct. 13, his physician said Trump had tested negative for the virus.
U.S. markets went from record highs in February 2020, to a steep bear market by mid-March. Social distancing measures and the temporary closures of businesses large and small across the country have caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and file for unemployment. Even as the S&P 500 has largely rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels, this largely served to highlight the Wall Street-Main Street divide as unemployment stubbornly stayed in the double digits.
With the U.S, and the global economy in a steep recession, Congress and the Federal Reserve have enacted trillions of dollars worth of fiscal and monetary stimulus measures to jumpstart a recovery. However, as the virus continues to rage out of control, with tens of thousands of new cases of coronavirus reported a day, recovery has been slow, and hopes of a v-shaped recovery have largely been replaced by fears of w-shaped double-dip recession. The situation is further complicated by the possibility of a K-shaped recovery, in which the economic recovery from the crisis is severely uneven across the economy and significantly widens wealth and income inequality. This means that the COVID-19 crisis and its accompanying economic crisis are likely to stay the primary issue until election day. The focus will be on supporting the unemployed, getting small businesses back up and running, debt forgiveness, health care reforms, and taxes.
With the COVID-19 crisis shaking the U.S. economy to its core, the role of government in the economy is front and center once again. Exactly how much responsibility the U.S. government has to help those who have been hurt by the pandemic, and who to prioritize helping, has been a huge bone of contention in creating the first three stimulus and relief packages. Congressional Republicans have largely pushed for more aid for businesses, believing that shoring them up will help people by broadly strengthening the economy, while congressional Democrats have pushed for more individual aid such as increased unemployment benefits to ensure families can afford day-to-day necessities and consumer spending stays strong. Between the president's veto and the role of the vice president as tiebreaker in the Senate, which is closely split between the parties, the role of government in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, and the economy more broadly, will be substantially shaped by who the winner of the 2020 election is. The issue of presidential leadership and influence on the Senate is doubly important, as the Senate has remained deadlocked on the issue of a fourth stimulus package. Except for supplements to existing legislation, it has not passed a new stimulus package since March.
Another major economic issue at play is the role and purpose of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has introduced a large number of new monetary stimulus measures to try and prevent the COVID-19 crisis from causing a liquidity crisis. As there are two empty spaces on the Federal Reserve Board, whoever wins the election will have a role in shaping the Fed. Further highlighting the importance of the issue, President Trump has nominated Judy Shelton, a nominee who believes in returning to the gold standard and, before her current hearings, opposed the FDIC. Both of these positions are far outside the bounds of conventional monetary policy. Depending on whether or not Shelton is confirmed, whoever wins the election could get to nominate up to two Federal Reserve Board members, shaping monetary policy for years to come.
Student loan debt is one of the most critical issues facing U.S. voters and their kids. Around 45 million people are carrying a total of $1.54 trillion in student loan debt.ï»¿ï»¿ Student borrowers are graduating college with a whopping $30,000 in debt, on average, which presents a major obstacle to starting their post-graduate life on sound financial footing. This debt overhang has major implications for the housing market, upon which much of the U.S. economy is based, and is a major reason for lower rates of homeownership among millenials. While candidates such as Senators Warren and Sanders, who presented plans for wiping out student loan debt entirely, failed to gain the nomination, but that doesn't mean this is the last we'll hear about student loan forgiveness.
Total American student debtï»¿ï»¿
This is already one of the most hotly debated topics in American politics and around the world. Since the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, Democratic candidates have been releasing their own climate-change policy proposals that are purported to slow climate change while adding jobs. President Trump, on the other hand, has been clear that he regards climate change as a hoax and has no plan to deal with what he considers to be a nonexistent issue.
The U.S.-China trade war has dominated headlines since President Trump took office. In his first two years as president, the Trump Administration has pulled out of several trade deals, introduced a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and levied hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese companies. While 2020 started with trade tensions cooling off as President Trump was working to finalize the USMCA trade pact and seemed to have set in place Phase 1 of his China trade deal, things have heated up. Trump reinstated tariffs on Canadian aluminum potential endangering the USMCA, and trade tensions have re-escalated with China. Trump has demanded that Chinese firm Bytedance, owner of the app TikTok, sell its U.S. operations, banned sale of electronics components to Chinese telecom firm Huawei, and threatened to delist Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges. Expect the Democratic candidates for the Oval Office to propose and defend their own trade policies throughout the debates and the campaign. Biden's proposed trade plan focuses improving the competitiveness of U.S. industry competitiveness by investing infrastructure and R&D across the economy, confronting China in cooperation with allies rather than acting unilaterally on trade, and tightening rules against corporate inversions to discourage companies from moving overseas.
With the eviction moratorium and unemployment expansion provisions of the CARES Act having lapsed in late July, major factors preventing millions of families from losing their homes across the U.S. have disappeared. According to Emily Benfer, the chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force Committee on Eviction, upwards of 28 million people across the U.S. may be facing eviction by the end of September. Compare this to the 10 million people evicted throughout the 2008 foreclosure crisis and you get an idea of the size of the looming disaster.
President Trump has ordered the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Financing Agency (FHFA) which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to find ways to provide assistance to renters and homeowners to prevent eviction or foreclosure. However, these instructions do not suggest any specific methods or remedies, nor have they produced any concrete policies as of yet.ï»¿ï»¿
Considering that 31.5% of households in America pay more than 30% of their income on housing, the standard definition for affordability, housing was likely to be a significant issue this election, even in the absence of the coming eviction crisis.ï»¿ï»¿ Among other things, Biden has proposed created a refundable, advanceable (paid at time of usage) tax credit of up to $15,000 to help first-time homebuyers, fully funding the Section 8 voucher program so that the program can serve more than the 25% of eligible households it currently serves, and reinstating the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires "communities receiving certain federal funding to proactively examine housing patterns and identify and address policies that have a discriminatory effect." That rule is meant to redress the long-lasting impact of discriminatory practices such as redlining that excluded people of color from purchasing houses in many suburbs throughout the 20th century.ï»¿ï»¿
This last issue in particular has been taken up as an issue by President Trump who has falsely claimed that this is a deliberate attempt by Joe Biden to "abolish" suburbs and eliminate single family zoning.
The U.S. healthcare system has problems, everyone seems to be able to agree on that. The U.S. spends far more per person than other countries on healthcare, while having lower life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality than most other rich countries, so we're clearly not getting our money's worth.
However, no one can agree on what would fix our system. President Trump and congressional Republicans proposed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) back in 2017, and while it failed to pass, it gives an idea of what the party's ideal solution for healthcare is. While on the other hand, Joe Biden is looking to expand on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed when he was vice president.
With the prospect of a vaccine for COVID-19 getting closer, President Trump has become embroiled in a rhetorical battle with one of his top public health experts about the timeline on which a potential vaccine could be distributed. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that a vaccine would be widely available to the general public by late Q2 or Q3 2021. Trump said hours later that this was "incorrect information." The timeline Redfield cited is undisputed among public health officials.ï»¿ï»¿
The average yearly cost of healthcare per person in 2018.ï»¿ï»¿
As the stock market is back to record highs while the U.S. economy is still deep in recession, the gap between the stock market and the rest of the economy is as wide, or wider, than ever. As only about half of Americans own stocks, that gap also increases wealth and income inequality, also at near record levels. Numerous policies could affect investing going forward, from how candidates change capital gains taxes (see more below) to who the nominees nominate to run the SEC.
One of, if not the largest pieces of legislation passed under President Trump's presidency was the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation consisted of a large, permanent tax cut for corporations, and temporary cuts to individual taxes that will expire in 2025. These cut individual taxes largely for higher-income Americans, but introduced at least some level of tax cuts across the board. A big winner of the tax cuts were investors, as most of the corporate money repatriated under the law went to share repurchases and dividends, rather than wage increases or investment, mirroring the effects of the repatriation holiday in 2004.ï»¿ï»¿ Joe Biden has proposed a tax plan that would raise taxes for wealthy Americans and tax long term capital gains at the same rate as normal income, going in the complete opposite direction as Trump's tax plan. Therefore, the overall direction of tax policy in America could be at play this election.
President Trump has long resisted releasing his tax returns to the public, breaking with presidential tradition dating back to the 1970's. The New York Times published information from his tax returns on Sept. 27, 2020, and have said more stories based on the data are upcoming.
With the five tech titans Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet making up almost 25% of the S&P 500's market capitalization as of the beginning of September 2020, the out-sized role these companies have on our country is going to be an issue for whoever is elected president this year. President Trump has long railed against large tech companies for what he perceives as a bias against conservatives. These allegations have already had an effect as it was recently revealed Facebook stopped enforcing its anti fake-news policies versus conservative outlets.
That's not to say that these technological giants haven't come under attack from the Democrats. Many Democratic Party politicians have attacked these companies for their sale of users data and their use of corporate inversions to avoid paying taxes. In a rare example of bipartisanship, politicians from both sides of the aisle have accused many of these companies of being monopolies and proposed they be broken up like the Standard Oil Trust of old. This idea has been reinforced by the current investigation from the FTC into all five of these companies about whether or not their acquisition strategies have been anti-competitive.ï»¿ï»¿ With trillions in market cap, these firms are large enough to a pressing issue this campaign season, COVID-19 or no.
Years are company fiscal years.