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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Facts of the Union

Obama took some boasts too far in his 2014 State of the Union.


We found a few overstatements and cherry-picked numbers among the applause lines and proposals in President Obama’s State of the Union address.

  • He boasted of businesses creating “more than 8 million new jobs” in the last four years. But that leaves out a loss of government jobs, not to mention the loss of jobs earlier in Obama’s presidency.
  • Obama credited the Affordable Care Act with signing up more than 9 million Americans for private insurance or Medicaid. But Medicaid estimates include renewals, along with new enrollees.
  • Obama boasted that the U.S. “reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.” Yes, but the U.S. produces a lot of emissions. Looking at percentage change, dozens of countries did better.
  • Federal deficits have been “cut by half,” as he said, but they’re still at historically high levels.
  • It’s also true, as Obama said, that for the first time in 20 years, domestic oil production was greater than imports. But the increase in U.S. production is primarily due to new technology, not government policy.


The president spoke to Congress and the nation on Jan. 28.


Selective Job Growth Stat

Obama referred to “more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s a highly selective statistic.

It’s true that nearly 8.2 million private sector jobs have been added since February 2010, which was the low point of the great job slump that began a year before Obama took office and continued through his first year. But total employment has risen less – by 7.6 million – held back by layoffs of state and local government workers. Obama was technically correct, as he was careful to speak of jobs “our businesses have created.”

His 8 million figure also leaves aside the nearly 4.2 million private sector jobs that were lost between the time he took office and the time the slump bottomed out. Overall, the net job gain since he took office stood at just over 3.2 million (or nearly 4 million if counting only private sector jobs), as of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for December.

Overstating ACA Impact

The president said that “because of the Affordable Care Act … more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.” But that total includes Medicaid renewals, not just new recipients that gained Medicaid coverage because of the health care law.

The 9 million figure includes 3 million Americans who have chosen insurance plans on the federal or state marketplaces and 6.3 million who were determined eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. An estimated 3.1 million young adults under age 26 also joined their parents’ plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements. Obama specifically referenced that last number:

Obama: Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

But the Medicaid category includes more than just those signing up “because of the Affordable Care Act.” As Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, noted when announcing the latest totals through December: “These numbers include both Medicaid and CHIP new eligibility determinations in states that expanded coverage, determinations made on prior law, and in some states, Medicaid renewals and groups not affected by the health care law.”

So not everyone was a new enrollee who gained Medicaid coverage because of the law. Some of the Medicaid numbers reported by the states included those renewing their already existing coverage.

Also, Obama didn’t claim that all of those signing up for coverage had been uninsured, and, in fact, we know that not all of them were. For instance, members of Congress and their staffs signed up for exchange plans, as required by the law, instead of continuing to get coverage through the program for federal employees.

Update, Feb. 6: A Feb. 5 report from Avalere Health, a health care industry consulting firm, estimates that less than a third of the 6.3 million who were determined eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program represents new enrollees due to the Affordable Care Act. The firm compared the October through December Medicaid and CHIP numbers from CMS to the average monthly number of applications in July through September 2013. It then used two sets of assumptions to estimate that between 1.1 million to 1.8 million of those determined eligible for Medicaid and CHIP newly enrolled because of the health care law.

Correction, Jan. 30: Our original story did not include the most up-to-date enrollment numbers. We initially said that the president’s 9 million figure included 2.1 million who chose marketplace plans, 3.9 million who were determined eligible for Medicaid and CHIP, and the 3.1 million young adults who joined their parents’ plans. But new numbers released by CMS on Jan. 24 show the 9 million figure includes only marketplace sign-ups and Medicaid and CHIP determinations. We have updated the article to reflect that information.

Stretching a Boast on Carbon Pollution Reduction

Obama rehashed a boast first made in a major speech on climate change last summer, that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.” As we noted then, that’s accurate in terms of the sheer tonnage of emissions reduced. But dozens of nations have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by a larger percentage than the U.S., which is second only to China in total emissions.

Obama: Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. emitted 5,490.63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011. That’s 362.4 million metric tons fewer than what was emitted in the U.S. in 2003. And Obama is correct that no other country saw such a large carbon pollution reduction, by metric tons, over the last eight years.

But some perspective is in order. The carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. in 2011 were second only to China, which emitted 8,715.31 million metric tons.

Few other countries even come close to emitting the amount of carbon dioxide that the U.S. does. The U.S. improvement results are different when the reduction amount is measured by the percentage change.

By that measure, dozens of countries fared better than the U.S., which reduced its emissions by 6.2 percent, including France (8.3 percent reduction), Germany (14.2 percent), Italy (15.1 percent), Spain (8 percent) and the United Kingdom (13.2 percent) — all of which committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol that took effect in 2005 and has since been extended through 2020. The United States did not ratify the treaty.

Also noteworthy, the EIA credited most of the U.S. reduction in carbon pollution to slower economic growth, weather, higher gasoline prices and an increasing shift from coal to natural gas — not necessarily the government’s energy policy, as claimed by Obama.

Still Historically High Deficits

Obama’s claim that federal deficits have been “cut by half” is true, but deficits remain at historically high levels.

When Obama took office in 2009, he inherited a projected deficit of $1.2 trillion. By the time fiscal year 2009 was finished, the actual deficit turned out to be over $1.4 trillion – the highest in U.S. history. And deficits remained over $1 trillion for the next three fiscal years.

The deficit for fiscal year 2013 (which ended Sept. 30) fell to $680 billion. That’s indeed less than half the 2009 figure, but it’s still higher than any full-year deficit for any previous president. The previous record was $459 billion in fiscal 2008, under President George W. Bush.

The outlook for the current fiscal year is improving rapidly, but it’s still quite high. The Treasury Department just reported a deficit of $174 billion for the first three months (October through December), which is 28 percent lower than the $239 billion deficit recorded for the comparable three-month period a year earlier.

Domestic Oil Greater Than Imports

The president said that for the first time in nearly 20 years, there is “more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world.”

That’s true. The latest figures from the nonpartisan experts at the Energy Information Administration show domestic oil production averaged 7.5 million barrels per day last year, while net imports of petroleum averaged 6.2 million barrels. And that’s the first time since 1992 that domestic production exceeded net imports.

But as we’ve often noted, the remarkable boom in U.S. oil production is chiefly the result of new drilling technology — using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — and not of any government policy.

— by Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and Eugene Kiely


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