US Slovakia

President Donald Trump smiles during a meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

NEW YORK — The lowest unemployment rate in a half century. More than 260,000 new jobs. And higher hourly wages.

“I’ll be running on the economy,” President Donald Trump declared on Friday. And why wouldn’t he?

The day’s new round of sunny employment figures offered fresh evidence of a strong national economy — and a big political advantage for Trump just as the 2020 presidential campaign begins to intensify. Stocks are at or near record levels, too, as the president often notes.

Democrats pointed to regional disparities in the new government report. And overall income inequality hasn’t narrowed.

But the Democrats who are fighting to deny the Republican president a second term are beginning to acknowledge the weight of their challenge: Since World War II, no incumbent president has ever lost re-election in a growing economy.

Even Trump’s critics are forced to admit the state of the economy could help him at the ballot box.

“Relative to all the other terrible aspects of Trump’s record, the economy is more of an asset to him,” said Geoff Garin, a veteran pollster whose clients include Priorities USA, the most powerful super PAC in Democratic politics.

Indeed, it was a day of celebration for Trump and his allies, who have been well aware of recent warnings that the economy might slow this year.

By most measures, the U.S. economy is in solid shape. It is expanding at a roughly 3% pace, businesses are posting more jobs than there are unemployed workers and wage growth, long the economy’s weak spot, has picked up.

All these trends are helping lift a broader swath of the population than in the first five years or so after the Great Recession.

Low-income workers are actually seeing healthy wage gains — larger than everyone else’s. In March, the poorest one-quarter of workers were earning 4.4% more than a year earlier, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The richest one-quarter were up 3%.

Lower-income workers had started to outpace their higher-paid counterparts in 2015, so it’s not a Trump phenomenon. And part of the increase has occurred because of minimum wage hikes by more than two-dozen states.

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