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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Biden’s Boasts

Vice President Joe Biden went too far in boasts about job growth and deficit reduction.

Biden was the keynote speaker at the AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers Summit on Career and Technical Education and Workforce Development on Nov. 13. His comments centered on job opportunities and education, and they included some exaggerations.

  • Biden said manufacturing jobs were expected to grow by 1.8 million, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates they will decline by 73,100 between 2010 and 2020.
  • He said the administration had reduced the federal deficit, as a share of GDP, more quickly than at any time since World War II. Not true. The deficit shrank at a faster rate in the 1990s.
  • Biden said the unemployment rate was 10 percent “when we took office.” It was 7.8 percent.

Manufacturing Jobs

Biden overstated manufacturing job growth, something we caught the vice president doing two years ago as well.

Biden: Manufacturing jobs are not only back 728,000 since we’ve been in office, in the last five years, but it’s expected to grow by another million, 800 thousand manufacturing jobs – more than any time, including in the 90s, if we meet the projections that are ahead of us. (Listen at the 1:05:20 mark.)

Manufacturing jobs haven’t gone up by 728,000 “since we’ve been in office,” but they have gone up that much in the “last five years” or nearly five years.

According to BLS data, there were 12.56 million manufacturing employees in January 2009, compared with 12.18 million manufacturing workers in October 2014, for a net loss of 379,000 jobs. Biden is measuring job growth from the low point in February 2010 — when there were 11.45 million manufacturing jobs. Since then, 728,000 manufacturing jobs have been added.

More puzzling is Biden’s claim that manufacturing jobs are “expected to grow” by another 1.8 million.

We’re not sure where Biden gets his statistic, and his office did not respond to our questions. One possible source is a 2012 study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a bipartisan think tank, which said then that if the pace of manufacturing job growth continued, “it would take until 2020 to return to where the economy was in terms of manufacturing jobs at the end of 2007.” The think tank was calling the pace of growth too slow. It said the U.S. had gained back about 166,000 of the 2 million manufacturing jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. That left another 1.8 million jobs to be gained by 2020.

A 2012 report from BLS, however, estimated that manufacturing employment would shrink — not grow — from 2010 to 2020, with a net loss of 73,100 jobs (see Table 1). That report is another possible source for the 1.8 million statistic, but it contradicts Biden’s claim.

While BLS estimated manufacturing jobs would drop, it projected a nearly 1.8 million increase in jobs in the “goods-producing sectors.” Manufacturing is the “dominant industry,” the report says, among those sectors. But manufacturing jobs are still expected to decrease. The growth in “goods-producing sectors” is expected to come mostly from the construction industry.

Deficit Reduction

The administration has reduced the yearly federal deficits — the 2009 deficit was running at $1.2 trillion the day Obama took office, and this year’s deficit is projected to be $483 billion. But the rate of reduction is not as quick Biden claimed.

Biden: We’ve reached a federal deficit as a share of GDP; we’ve reduced it by 70 percent — the fastest reduction since World War II. (1:05:10 mark.)

Biden’s half right. The deficit was 9.8 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2009. It declined by 7 percentage points to 2.8 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2014. That’s a 71 percent reduction, but it’s not the fastest rate of reduction since the 1940s.

Looking at the six years from 1992 to 1997, the deficit as a percentage of GDP went from 4.5 percent to 0.3 percent (Table H-1). That’s a 93 percent reduction. There were also six-year periods during the 1990s and early 2000s when budget deficits became surpluses.

We checked a similar statement from President Obama in August 2013. Back then, the White House was looking at the four-year period from 2009 to 2012.

Job Growth

Biden correctly said the unemployment rate “is down to 5.8 percent,” but then added, “It was at 10 percent when we took office” (1:05:05 mark). No, it wasn’t. It was 7.8 percent when Obama and Biden took office in January 2009, and it climbed to 10 percent by October of that year.

He also exaggerated the job growth under this presidency by cherry-picking his numbers.

Biden: There have been 10.6 million jobs created in the private sector. Fifty-six straight months — the longest streak of constant employment in the history of the United States of America. (1:04:50 mark.)

That’s correct, at least since 1939, which is the earliest year for which we have Bureau of Labor Statistics data. From February 2010 through October 2014, there were 56 months of private-sector job growth and 10.6 million private jobs created. But there hasn’t been consecutive growth for 56 months for all jobs. Biden ignores government jobs.

Total nonfarm employment declined from June through September 2010. In terms of all jobs, 9.4 million have been created over 49 straight months, which is still the longest streak of continuous employment growth since BLS data was first collected.

His figures leave out all of 2009, which consisted entirely of monthly job losses. All told under the Obama presidency, 5.7 million jobs have been created.

— Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore, with Alexander Nacht

Correction, April 22, 2016: An alert reader contacted us to point out the deficit as a percentage of GDP had declined by 7 percentage points (not 6, as we originally said) from 2009 to 2014. We have corrected the error.