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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Wildly Inflates Unemployment

Donald Trump said he “heard” the unemployment rate was really 42 percent. It’s not. That figure would include retirees, teenagers, stay-at-home parents and anyone else who doesn’t need or want to work.

The unemployment rate is actually 4.9 percent for January.

If Trump wanted to include the underemployed (part-time workers wanting full-time work) and the “marginally attached” (those who have given up looking for a job but had looked for one in the past year), then he could use 9.9 percent as his number for the underemployed and the unemployed. That’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “U-6” measurement of labor underutilization, its most comprehensive statistic on those who are underemployed or unemployed but want to work.

We fact-checked Trump on this topic back in June, when he said in his speech announcing his presidential candidacy that the “real” unemployment rate is “anywhere from 18 to 20 percent” and “maybe even 21 percent.” He was wrong then. The only figure of 18 percent we found came from a University of Maryland economist who included “the effects of immigration,” he said, and the “many” students who are being “duped” into applying for “useless programs” at universities and for-profit schools.

But Trump has doubled his already inflated figure since.

Trump has floated this 40-something number several times, most recently in his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire Republican primary (at the 11:21 mark).

Trump, Feb. 9: I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. Remember that. Don’t believe those phony numbers, when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment.

The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think we’d have gatherings like this if we had, if we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we’d have these gatherings?

Back in July, he said on Fox News that “somebody actually last week said we have a 40 percent unemployment [rate].”

He also made the claim in a Time magazine interview in August, and a press conference in September. Our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post and Politifact wrote about those instances, with both organizations giving Trump their highest ratings for falsehoods.

We don’t mean to pile on, but Trump’s claim is bogus, and a real whopper. Forty-two percent of the American working-age public is not unemployed and wanting a job.

In his Time magazine interview, Trump claimed that 93 million Americans were out of work.

Trump, Time magazine interview, Aug. 20, 2015: Our real unemployment rate–in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment–because you have ninety million people that aren’t working. Ninety-three million to be exact.

If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%. We have a lot of room. We have a lot of people who want to work.

Trump is referring to the number of working-age Americans who are not in the labor force. As we pointed out when then Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 said he was “worried” about those not in the labor force, they include everyone age 16 and over who isn’t working or looking for work: teenagers, college students, folks who are well into their retirement years, stay-at-home parents, the independently wealthy and more.

In fact, the current figure — 95 million as of January — includes only 6 million who say they want to work.

To be counted as officially “unemployed” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person without a job must have tried to find employment in the four weeks before the BLS survey is taken. The labor force includes everyone who is employed and unemployed. That means those who are counted as “not in the labor force” aren’t working and haven’t looked for work in the past month.

Since there are some Americans, currently 2 million, who have sought employment in the past year but not the past month (the “marginally attached”) and another nearly 6 million who are working part time but want full-time work, politicians sometimes use the BLS U-6 figure to capture those Americans. As we said, that measure of unemployment and underemployment is 9.9 percent — double the official unemployment rate, but nowhere close to the figure Trump has touted.

In June, David Stockman, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, used a “real unemployment rate” of 42.9 percent, which he based on the potential labor hours if every American adult, ages 16 to 68, worked full time. Obviously every American between those ages doesn’t work full time or even want to. Stockman noted: “Yes, we have to allow for non-working wives, students, the disabled, early retirees and coupon clippers. We also have drifters, grifters, welfare cheats, bums and people between jobs, enrolled in training programs, on sabbaticals and much else.”

The labor force participation rate, the percentage of the civilian population that is either employed or looking for work, has been on a downward trajectory since 2000. As we noted in our most recent “Obama’s Numbers” article, that’s partly due to the aging of the population. BLS data published in December 2015 show 44 percent of those not in the labor force in 2014 said they were retired. Other reasons for not working: Eighteen percent cited school; 19 percent cited illness or disability; and 15 percent cited home responsibilities. About 3.5 percent said they couldn’t find work or gave another reason.

This is the fourth time that we have fact-checked Trump claiming that he “heard” something that’s not close to being accurate.