Obama’s impact on Nebraska’s economy could change with Pacific trade deal

Jan. 13, 2016, 9:45 a.m. ·

President Barack Obama addresses the crowd at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Photo by Dennis Kellogg, NET News)

President Obama spoke at Baxter Arena in Omaha Wednesday following his final State of the Union speech in office. He came to Omaha, in part, to promote Nebraska’s economic prosperity during his time in office. In his speech he touted some recent job creation numbers.

“We’re in the midst of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history,” Obama said to applause from the capacity crowd. “Fourteen million new jobs, around 40,000 right here in Omaha and the surrounding areas.”

(Watch Obama's complete address in Omaha here)

The Nebraska economy has seen some good times during the Obama presidency, particularly if you look at unemployment. Nebraska has the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.9 percent.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says business has been good in Nebraska through Obama’s tenure, but not great.

“Nebraska’s doing reasonably well, Goss said. “The nation’s doing reasonably well. The problem there is wage growth, and wage growth has not been good. We’re talking 2 percent.”

After adjusting for inflation, Goss says wages are practically flat. Also, Goss says there are some weak spots in Nebraska’s otherwise strong job market.

“We’re losing manufacturing jobs in Nebraska,” Goss said. “The region’s losing manufacturing jobs, particularly manufacturing linked to agriculture and energy, of course two sectors that are really not doing well.”

Farm incomes are dropping as commodity prices have fallen from historic highs to their lowest levels in five years.

Goss says one of the items left on President Obama’s to-do list could help the farm sector by boosting exports of Nebraska corn and beef. It’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Twelve countries recently agreed to the trade deal, but it still needs to be ratified by Congress.

The United States’ top negotiator for agriculture on the TPP is Darci Vetter, a Nebraska native. Vetter spoke at the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Heuermann Lecture Tuesday night. She said the agreement would open markets and lower tariffs in places like Japan and Vietnam.

“Vietnam is a very rapidly emerging economy with a rapidly growing population, and a population who has more and more of its members joining the middle class,” Vetter said, adding that Vietnam is already a large buyer of corn and soybeans.

“We also expect that we will sell more beef and poultry and dairy products as well as more fruits and vegetables as the middle class population creates a desire for a higher protein and a fresher and more nutritious diet,” Vetter said.

Since the TPP agreement has been completed, Vetter said other countries such as Taiwan and Indonesia have shown interest in joining the accord.

The Farm Bureau supports the TPP as a way to open foreign markets. But other farm groups like the Farmers Union oppose it. When the final text of the TPP was released in November, Farmers Union president Roger Johnson argued foreign competition would hurt prices for farm products in the U.S.

The Nebraska Farmers Union, Bold Nebraska, and labor union groups gathered to protest the trade deal outside the arena before President Obama’s address.

Obama is pushing Congress to ratify the TPP before he leaves office but it faces bipartisan opposition. Whether the agreement is approved will influence Obama’s legacy on Nebraska agriculture and the state’s economy.