President Trump’s chances of reelection hinge, at least in part, on a strong U.S. economy, and he thinks the economy is doing great. “The United States is now, by far, the Biggest, Strongest and Most Powerful Economy in the World, it is not even close!” the president recently tweeted. “Consumers are in the best shape ever, plenty of cash. Business Optimism is at an All Time High!”
Really? How true do these statements ring for Brooklynites? To find out, The Brooklyn Ink conducted an unscientific survey, asking residents of the borough how they are faring these days. Here is what they had to say:
Sonny Rodriguez, 27, is the manager at Brooklyn Cupcake in Williamsburg and she’s as cheerful as her name might suggest. Among a row of vibrant baked goods, offering flavors from Tres Leches to Red Velvet, Rodriguez says that part of what has made Brooklyn Cupcake survive is community support. “We’ve been here ten years,” she said, “and that’s definitely because of the people who support us here in the neighborhood.”
Community support isn’t always enough on its own, though. Oscar Rivera, 46, is an entrepreneur who runs his own private tattoo service, going to Brooklyn clients’ homes to do his custom work. Rivera expressed frustration about the rising costs of household goods under Trump, and he called on the government to create new public works programs to fuel job growth. “I think they should open up more programs for people who have a low income—working programs and housing programs,” Rivera said in Brooklyn Heights. “Give them a hand at first but then continue helping them so they can help themselves.”
Even in relatively wealthier neighborhoods like Park Slope, customers seem to be scaling back on personal services, like haircuts and dry cleaning, says 48-year-old Simona S., a stylist at a hair salon on Seventh Avenue. “People just don’t want to spend the money now,” she says. “They’ll come in and ask, ‘How much for a haircut?’ And when I tell them, ‘$35,’ they’ll say, ‘But the place across the street is only $30!’ Women will come in and they’re always looking for bargains, or try to use Groupon. Or they’ll buy their own products at the drugstore and do it themselves.”
Some people thought Trump’s tax policy might help them, but Joe Toronto, 42, was disapppointed. He opened the Mountain Province coffee shop on Mesorole Street in Bushwick with his husband six years ago. “The tax cuts didn’t help,” said Toronto. “I was expecting them to, as some sort of silver lining to this, but no. Our 2017 taxes were really no different than 2016. In fact I got nailed on my personals. So no, I did not benefit at all from this new Republican tax plan, either on the business or personal side.”
Still, you don’t have to look far beyond the bustling businesses on Prospect Park West for signs of a growing economy, at least not according to Inna Kalin, 46, who says the economy “looks like it’s growing.” Kalin says that despite escalating rent prices, it’s a “good sign” to see people still moving into Windsor Terrace, an increasingly desirable neighborhood. “People here have money,” she says. “People are always out at cafés and restaurants, so things must be good.”
Lessie Pope, 46, a homemaker and Fort Greene native, says that while the economy may be doing well nationwide, local establishments “that have been in the community for 20 or 30 years” are forced to close down due to escalating rent prices. Pope Pope adds that she is struggling to start her new business, “I’m a schoolteacher. I’m trying to open up an after-school program. Getting the money for rent, for everything, it’s hard. What’s respected now is your dollar. The economy is up, but not for everyone.”
Milton Cando, 68, agreed. Cando is retired and a small business owner, when asked about Trump’s claim of a strong economy, he was firm: “the economy is bad,” he said. “In my experience, my brother, I am affected by the issues Trump is causing. I am retired and I need help, and they want to take it away from me. At this age, no one wants to give me a job. The economy is very bad; don’t you see how this is?” He points out to his grocery, which looks semi-empty, not just with customers, but with a lack of variety in the sundries the store has to sell. “It’s empty,” he says. “Nobody wants to come in.”
Dev Shannon, 19, works at the Family Dollar on Lefferts Ave. in Crown Heights. When asked how President Trump’s economy has affected him, he responds simply, “there’s not a lot of opportunities for minorities.” He continues, “I think there is more discrimination. I personally think it’s been harder to find a job.”
Cynthia Quinones, a 28-year-old Sales Associate at PMI International Stone Importers, commented on the increasing cost of living in Greenpoint. The neighborhood is changing as those who can afford it move in and those who cannot move out, she noted. But one thing has not changed, she says: homelessness. “Even with rent going up and wealthier people moving in, there are still homeless people in the parks,” says Quinones. “What is Trump doing for them?”
Cheyenne Kiker, a bartender at Dirty Precious, said, “We support a lot of local, independent alcohol brands, and most of the products we use are made in the U.S., or at least I think they are, so any increase in taxes on foreign goods aren’t going to affect us too much.” But taxes and prices are not their only measure of the economy, she explains. When Trump was elected, and in response to his election, the bar began holding a “Charity Cocktails” event each month: Proceeds from a featured cocktail are donated to a charity.
Nicholas Matlene, 27, thinks that it is unfair to think Trump administration should have to bear the brunt of turning the economy around. He thinks it is a too ambitious a task for one administration to address during its time in power. And he is not complaining: “Minimum wage is mostly okay, You know everything price-wise matches your cost of living,” says Matlene. Currently in between jobs, he says he understands that things can be better. “I just hope it doesn’t get worse,” he adds.
Not everyone blames the president, at least not those who voted for him. “He has revitalized the economy for a bit,” said Lo Xing, 62, a cashier at a Chinese grocery store, who feels that things have gotten better under Trump. “Employment has been improved and it’s easier for people to find a job. It was very difficult in the past. People I know all have a job now. And they even get to pick what to do.” Within the Chinese community, she says, a lot of her families and friends voted for Trump in the 2016 elections, including herself. In 2020? “I will still vote for Trump,” she said.
Shelley Mossey, owner of Rolling Orange bike tours, says he has had a rocky financial history but is content with his current economic status. “We can pay our rent now, we can pay our bills and take a vacation. We are thrilled… It is all we need,” he said. He believes that politicians are not responsible for his struggles or his successes. He also believes that most people realize that politicians are merely giving “lip service” when they claim they will better the economy.
“In the past 30 or 40 years, nothing changed, really,” he said. “No one is going to come to rescue you, except you. Remember that. No matter who’s in office, everything stays the same.”