Editor’s Note: For weeks, President Donald Trump has been campaigning in states that are key to the Republican Party’s chances of maintaining control of the House and Senate. We have reviewed seven speeches he gave from Oct. 10 to Oct. 22. This is the second in a series of stories on his speeches.
President Donald Trump is proud of his economic record, and he points to some key economic indicators with great delight.
Trump inherited an economy experiencing growth in output, jobs and incomes, but since he has taken office, the stock market has continued to rise and set records — despite the recent declines. The jobless rate has dropped to the lowest in nearly half a century. Economic growth remained at a comparatively high 3.5 percent annual rate as of the most recent quarter, and the median household income in 2017 was the highest ever recorded.
But Trump doesn’t always stick to those facts out on the campaign trail when he talks to his supporters about his economic achievements as president.
He often exaggerates jobs figures or seemingly makes them up. He also has a tendency to claim that U.S. companies are doing things they are not. And he never misses an opportunity to oversell the size and the benefits of the GOP tax bill he made law.
Here are some examples of Trump going beyond the facts, or giving himself too much credit, during rallies over the last two weeks.
Speaking in Richmond, Kentucky, on Oct. 13, the president said he was putting coal miners “back to work like never before.” As we wrote in “Trump’s Numbers,” there has been an increase in coal mining jobs. Since January 2017, the U.S. economy has added 1,900 coal jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the increase is not “like never before,” as Trump said.
During a similar 20-month time span, there were three times under President George W. Bush when more coal-mining jobs were created: from February 2001 through September 2002 (2,200 jobs), February 2005 through September 2006 (5,600 jobs) and February 2007 through September 2008 (6,100 jobs), according to BLS.
And while there has been an increase in the number of coal mining jobs over the last two years, the total number of coal miners has not recovered to anywhere near the level it was just six years ago. According to BLS, there were 52,600 coal mining jobs in September. That’s more than 40 percent fewer coal mining jobs than there were in early 2012.
Although Trump implies that the coal industry is roaring back, the outlook for coal miners isn’t good. Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration issued a report that projected U.S. coal production will decline 2 percent this year and next year. The EIA report says less demand for exports and increased use of natural gas to generate electricity will drive the decline in coal production.
At several of his rallies, Trump has made the claim that “[w]e’ve added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs,” which isn’t accurate.
Manufacturing jobs have increased under Trump, but the number rose by 378,000 between Trump’s inauguration and September 2018, the most recent month for BLS data. There was a net decrease of 192,000 manufacturing jobs under President Obama, but following the recession, the number of manufacturing jobs has been generally rising since 2010.
We’re not sure how Trump gets 600,000 manufacturing jobs. Even counting from November 2016, when Trump was elected, there have been just 408,000 jobs added in that sector.
As he did in Elko, Nevada, on Oct. 20, Trump has taken to making the pointless claim that “more Americans are working today than at any time in our history.”
Yes, there were 149.5 million total nonfarm employees as of September, which is the most of all time, according to BLS. But the U.S. also has a larger population than ever before, so Trump’s claim doesn’t mean much. By other (also imperfect) measures that factor in population, employment in the U.S. isn’t at an all-time high.
For those age 16 and over, the civilian labor force participation rate was 62.7 percent in September, and the employment-population ratio was 60.4 percent. Neither of those is the highest ever. Even the national unemployment rate, which was near a 50-year low of 3.7 percent in September, wasn’t the lowest in history, according to BLS data.
More Jobs, Less Food Stamps
At multiple rallies, Trump made a version of the claim that “[i]n less than two years, we have created over 4.2 million new jobs and lifted over 4 million Americans off of food stamps.”
Both figures are exaggerated. Total nonfarm employment grew by 3.8 million during the president’s first 20 months in office, according to the most recent BLS figures available. That continued an unbroken chain of nearly eight years of monthly gains in total employment. For context, the job growth in the 20 months before Trump took office, under Obama, was 4.2 million.
And, as of July, the most recent month for which figures are available, 38.9 million people were receiving food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the lowest number since November 2009. The number generally has been declining since peaking at nearly 47.8 million in December 2012, as the economy recovered from the Great Recession. That downward trend has continued under Trump, with the number of people receiving food aid down nearly 3.8 million, or 8.8 percent, between January 2017 and July 2018. Over the previous 18-month time frame, the decline was 2.8 million.
Trump, who this year imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports, also frequently talks about how well the steel industry is doing. He often mentions Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel in particular.
In Erie, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 10, Trump said: “The steel industry was dead and dying. One of the hottest industries right now in our country is American steel. U.S. Steel is opening and expanding seven different plants and spending a tremendous — billions of dollars doing it.”
But we still have not found any evidence that U.S. Steel is “opening and expanding seven different plants.”
Meghan Cox, a company spokeswoman, previously told us, “All of our operational changes have been publicly announced and all information shared with the federal government has been properly disclosed and made available on our website.” There we found a September 2017 press release announcing the construction of a new continuous galvanizing line in Leipsic, Ohio, as well as press releases in March and June of this year about the restarting of operations at two blast furnaces and steel-making facilities at an existing plant in Granite City, Illinois. Then, in August, U.S. Steel announced a five-year plan to “modernize and enhance the company’s flagship operation” in Gary, Indiana.
That doesn’t add up to “seven different plants,” and since that time, there have been no additional announcements about new plant openings or expansions on the company’s website.
Not the ‘Biggest Tax Cuts’
There’s a phenomenon known in psychology circles as the illusory truth effect, which is the tendency for people to believe information that has been repeated to them many times. If that’s the case, people who regularly listen to Trump’s rallies may be under the misimpression that the Republican tax cut passed last year was “the biggest tax cut in the history of our country.”
Trump, Ohio, Oct. 12: Under Republican leadership, we passed the biggest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history.
Trump, Kentucky, Oct. 13: We got tax cuts, biggest tax cuts in the history of our country.
Trump, Arizona, Oct. 19: We gave you the biggest tax cut in the history of our country.
Trump, Nevada, Oct. 20: And Republicans passed the biggest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history.
The claim has been a staple of Trump’s public speeches for months, but no matter how many times he says it, it still isn’t true.
As we have written and written and written, there have been more expensive tax laws in terms of percentage of gross domestic product and inflation-adjusted dollars. The new tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, would cost $1.46 trillion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that an even more expensive plan previously proposed by Trump would have been only the eighth largest tax cut as a percentage of gross domestic product, and it would have been just the fourth largest cut in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The largest tax cut in history, as a percentage of GDP, came under President Ronald Reagan in 1981, according to CRFB.
False Estate Tax Claim
In his boasts about the new tax law, Trump also has falsely claimed at multiple rallies that Republicans got rid of the estate tax.
Trump, Arizona, Oct. 19: You know another thing we did for — I like a lot of people in Arizona, small businesses, farmers. You don’t have estate tax. No more estate tax. So if you love your children — which is a question — you may not like ’em, in which case don’t listen to me — if you don’t like ’em, don’t leave them the farm. But if you love ’em, you’ll love Trump, because you don’t have to pay estate tax, OK?
Trump, Texas, Oct. 22: We’ve saved your family farms, ranches, and small businesses from the estate tax, also known as the death tax. … For those of you that really would like your small businesses, your farms, your ranches left to your children instead of now having your children go out when you kick the bucket, a sad day, and about two or three days later, they’re happy as hell. No, forget it. Instead of have them — instead of having them go out and borrow a tremendous amount of money to pay the estate tax, they don’t have to borrow anything. There’s no tax. There’s no tax.
That’s false. The new tax law doubled the threshold at which a family would be subject to the estate tax, but it didn’t eliminate the tax.
The new law doubles the exemption limit so that it now applies to estates with assets valued at less than $11.2 million ($22.4 million for couples). That provision expires at the end of 2025. So unless or until those new thresholds are extended by a future Congress, the exemption thresholds will revert to the prior levels.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that while the number of people who would have to pay an estate tax would drop from 5,500 to 1,700 in 2018, the tax revenues from the estate tax would drop by only about a third, from $20.4 billion to $13.6 billion.
“Most estate tax is paid by extremely wealthy people, so even doubling the exemption leaves most of it in place,” Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, told us when the tax law was passed.
It is also worth noting that very few farms were actually paying any estate tax before Trump signed the tax bill. A study published by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 37,994 farms would become part of estates in 2017. And of those, only 0.8 percent — around 300 estates nationwide— would owe any estate tax at all.