Fact-Checking Trump's State Of The Union, So You Don't Have To
Tracking the truthfulness of President Donald Trump's statements is no small feat, but it's good to challenge yourself, right? Fact-checking Trump's State of the Union is a rough job, but somebody's got to do it. In fact, on Tuesday night, many of us were grinding our teeth while furiously Googling, and I'm sure each one of us will accidentally let a few fibs slip through the cracks. According to the Washington Post, he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims during his first year in office, and Politifact has rated only 4 percent of Trump's statements true. But hey, what's one night?
I knew right from the beginning that this was going to be a very nuanced assignment. When is it OK to say "misleading" versus just "false" or "incorrect"? And just how many synonyms are there for "liar" that won't get me in trouble? Unfortunately, I can't prove that Trump's stated mission, "to make America great again for all Americans" isn't true, but boy howdy, it sure doesn't feel like he wants that for everyone. His opening remarks had me side-eyeing so much, I got a headache five minutes in. "Over the last year, we have made incredible progress and achieved incredible success," he claimed. Define those words, would you please, Mr. President? "We have faced challenges we expected and others we could never have imagined," he continued. Really? Which couldn't you have predicted, the mass shootings? The natural disasters? Because the rest of us did.
But you can't disprove hyperbole, so let's move on the the cold, hard facts, both the real ones, and the pretend ones that the leader of the free world just said on TV. What was legit? What wasn't? Do you honestly expect to be surprised?
On Being A Job Creator
"Since the election we have created 2.4 million new jobs," Trump claimed, "including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone. Tremendous numbers." Who is this "we"? Just moments before, he'd been talking about his administration, some members of which have no doubt been hiring more lawyers and pilots for their private planes than the previous administration did. Hey-o! But seriously, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment did grow by 2.1 million more jobs in 2017. And it grew by 2.2 million in 2016, so maybe stop bragging, dude. Manufacturing grew by 196,000 jobs, which is close to 200,000, I guess.
On The Wage Rate
"After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages," said the man who won't show us how much he's made over the years. But in fact, according to the BLS, wages have always fluctuated, because of course they have. When adjusting for inflation, the median weekly earnings for U.S. full-time workers in the last quarter of 2017 was exactly the same as it was in the first quarter of 2009.
"Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low," Trump bragged. Presumably he's talking about the weekly rate of initial claims for unemployment insurance, which did see a new record low of 216,000 (when seasonally adjusted) for the week ending Jan. 13, 2018. They've since gone back up, though, Reuters reported. Bummer.
On Black Unemployment
"African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded," said the guy who was sued by the Justice Department for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to Black people (the case was settled, and Trump denies any wrongdoing). Once again, that rate had been dropping for the better part of a decade before Trump took office, according to BLS data. It's been steadily dropping since a Jan. 2010 high of 16.5 percent to 7.8 percent in Dec. 2016 (thanks, Obama). Now it's down to 6.8 percent. Wowee.
On Hispanic Employment
Trump also crowed that "Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history." Yeah, dude, they went down for everybody, per the BLS. Hispanic unemployment rates are still higher than those of white and Asian workers, second only to... see above.
"A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000," Trump claimed, "slashing their tax bill in half." This appears to be a recycled and incorrect claim from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said during an NPR interview in December, "The median family of four — the median household of four — gets about a $2,000 tax cut, on average." But that's a very creative way to frame it. According to Politifact, Ryan used a figure of $91,532, the median income for a family with two minor children living in his home state of Wisconsin. Such a family would indeed pay about $2,000 less in taxes this year, but that tax cut would decrease every year thereafter.
It's hard to tell when Trump is actively lying, when he's legitimately confused about facts, and when he's just repeating what someone else told him was true. But one thing's for sure, taking what he says at face value is probably unwise.