“We Win. They Lose.” That was the headline Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) put on the 10-point economic plan he rolled out in a Rochester, N.H. warehouse Monday. For DeSantis, the “we” are working and middle-class Americans. “They” are the Communist regime in China, along with America’s political elites, with a record of failure from the 2008 Wall Street bailout to COVID.
But while DeSantis’ economic platform is full of blue-collar populism, he also has a message for Americans — particularly men — who have dropped out of the workforce: It’s time to get back to work.
“Think about this,” DeSantis told a crowd of about 100 people at Prep Partners Group, a logistics and distribution company. “Today, the bottom half of households have less wealth than they did in 1989. Meanwhile, the top 10 percent have added $29 trillion in wealth. COVID lockdowns accelerated that trend. It diminished the purchasing power of the middle class and upended our workforce such that millions of people left the workforce and still to this day have not returned.
“Over six million prime-age men are neither working nor looking for work at all,” DeSantis said. “In 1953, the labor participation rate of that cohort was 98 percent. Today, it’s 89 percent.”
The lack of workers is hitting the New Hampshire economy particularly hard. The unemployment rate in June fell to 1.8 percent, the lowest ever recorded in state history. According to the N.H. Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA), the state is projected to have nearly 197,000 job openings between 2022 to 2032, of which only 6,100 will be filled by labor force growth.
Asked by NHJournal if he supported work requirements for people receiving welfare benefits, DeSantis said he did.
“The federal government stance should be [that] for able-bodied adults; there should be work requirements for all welfare programs. The incentives need to be ‘get to work,'” DeSantis said.
DeSantis contrasted his approach with the incentives in the CARES Act (signed by President Donald Trump), “which was $2 trillion, and they were basically telling people not to work. Maybe they thought that you could do that for a couple of weeks, and everything would (snap back). “But what happened is, the CARES Act underwrote lengthy lockdowns in blue states,” DeSantis said, while states like Florida and Georgia were more aggressive in ending lockdowns and getting people back to work.
“So the expectation needs to be any benefits must come with work requirements. I think that that’s one hundred percent.”
New Hampshire Republicans, led by Gov. Chris Sununu, passed a work requirement in 2019 for Medicaid expansion beneficiaries, making the taxpayer-funded health coverage available to families with incomes above the poverty line. A federal judge struck it down. Republicans wanted to bring it back in the 2023-24 budget earlier this year as part of a Medicaid expansion compromise, but it faced strong opposition from Granite State Democrats.
Bruce Berke with NFIB New Hampshire agreed that “the top challenge right now is workforce,” but he added that housing costs are a serious roadblock for Granite State businesses.
“Our housing market is beginning to settle back down post-COVID, but ‘reality’ pricing will go a long way toward having a market that matches the current job openings,” Berke said.
DeSantis also addressed the state of the U.S. housing market, arguing Biden’s policies of driving up inflation raised housing prices and the Fed’s need to raise interest rates to fight rising prices made the problem worse.
“Inflation has caused huge problems because it costs more to build homes,” DeSantis said. “Then with the interest rates, that’s made it really, really difficult [to buy a home.]”
“Interest rates have gone up so quickly that it’s locking homeowners into their homes because they know they can sell it, maybe make some money, but then they’re going to end up in a loan that it’s going to cost them way more with interest.”
In his speech to a clearly pro-DeSantis crowd, the Florida governor laid out an economic approach that featured some traditional Republican politics like reducing business regulations and “unleashing American energy independence.” At the same time, he also advanced ideas to confront what he sees as a rise of “woke” politics in economic policy, such as politically-directed ESG investing.
“DeSantis will not tolerate woke corporations using ESG as an end-run around our constitutional system to impose heavy-handed, left-wing edicts through concentrated private power,” according to his plan. “There will be no ideological litmus test for getting a loan, establishing a bank account, or running a business.”
Sununu recently signed an executive order banning the state government from participating in ESG investing, too. And Sununu’s Attorney General John Formella just signed an amicus brief siding with Florida and its state law protecting land near sensitive locations from foreign ownership.
The crowd liked what they heard.
“I like his comments about bringing manufacturing back to the states, his whole China policy,” said Beth from Stratham, N.H. “I’m glad he’s on that.”
State Rep. Lisa Mazur (R-Goffstown) also mentioned DeSantis’ China policy as appealing but added that the top-of-mind economic issue for her constituents is rising prices.
“I talk to a lot of moms and families, and that’s their big concern right now. I’ll get a message from someone that says, ‘I just went grocery shopping, and I don’t see how we can continue this.'”
Asked what DeSantis needed to work on, Beth said, “I think he needs to lighten up a little bit. Not all business.”
“I know DeSantis knows the issues, but he’s still a little stiff.”