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FactChecking Biden’s Campaign-Style Speeches

President Joe Biden has been giving a series of campaign-style speeches, touting the success of his economic policies, which he calls “Bidenomics,” and talking about his efforts to diversify the federal courts. But we found that some of his claims were wrong or imprecise.

  • Biden wrongly claimed to have “appointed more African American women” to federal judgeships than “every other president combined.” He’s had more African American women confirmed than any other president, but not more than all of them combined.
  • Biden exaggerated the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on reducing carbon emissions.
  • Biden noted that the share of “working-age Americans” in the workforce is the highest it’s been in roughly 20 years, which is correct for those age 25 to 54. But when including those age 55 and older, labor force participation rates are still below the pre-pandemic level.

Biden made those claims in speeches in Chicago on June 28 and in New York on June 29.

African American Women Judges

While complimenting Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Biden went too far when talking about how many African American women Durbin has helped Biden get confirmed to federal judgeships.

“He’s made sure that we got more judges appointed — we — we’ve appointed more African American women to the exec- — to the — to the federal bench than any other — every other president combined,” Biden said of Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But that claim is not accurate.

Biden, with Durbin’s assistance, has been able to get 31 African American women confirmed to the federal courts, according to data from the Federal Judicial Center. But there have been 88 African American women confirmed to federal judgeships since Constance Baker Motley was the first in 1966, meaning that Biden has appointed less than half of them. His total also includes four women, including Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom other presidents already had appointed to a federal court when Biden elevated them to another position.

Those figures include women who were identified as African American alone or as African American and another race or ethnicity.

It’s true that Biden has appointed more African American women to the federal courts than any other individual president, if that’s what he meant to say. We asked the White House for clarification, but didn’t get a response.

The presidents with the next highest totals are Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who appointed 27 and 15 African American women in their respective presidencies.

Biden also may have meant to refer specifically to African American women appointed to federal appellate courts, as he has said in past speeches.

He has had 13 African American women confirmed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, according to the Federal Judicial Center’s figures. Before Biden, only eight African American women had ever been appointed to those appellate courts.

In the federal court hierarchy, the 13 federal appellate courts are second only to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Reducing Carbon Emissions

In remarks at a June 29 campaign event in New York, Biden exaggerated the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on reducing carbon emissions.

Biden, June 29: But as I said, in addition to rejoining the Paris climate treaty, we passed the Inflation Reform Act, the largest investment in the history of the world — $369 billion for climate. $369 billion. And remember they got mad I didn’t get $500 billion?

Well, it cuts pollution by 1 billion tons, cuts emissions by 50% by 2030, and — and tax credits for EVs, solar, wind, and batteries, heat pumps, hydrogen.

The president is right about the tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act — although not “reform act,” as he said. The act, which he signed Aug. 16, provides tens of billions of dollars in tax credits, as we’ve explained before.

But the president left the missing impression that the act alone will cut greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions in half by 2030.

First, a little background: Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has committed to achieving a 50% reduction in GHG emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

In a March paper for the Brookings Institution, three economists — who described the IRA as “the largest federal response to climate change to date” — estimated that the law will make a significant contribution to the 50% reduction goal. But the U.S. won’t reach the goal by 2030, even with the IRA.

“Consistent with preliminary analysis, modeling suggests that IRA puts the U.S. on track to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 32% to 42% below 2005 levels in 2030,” the paper says, “which is 6 to 11 percentage points lower than without IRA.”

Similarly, Biden’s claim that the law “cuts pollution by 1 billion tons” isn’t quite right. That can only be achieved in combination with another law he signed — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is also known as the bipartisan infrastructure law, according to an analysis by the Department of Energy.

“DOE estimates that the clean energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 together could reduce emissions by approximately 1,000 million metric tons (MMT CO2e) in 2030,” the department said in a fact sheet on the impact of Inflation Reduction Act on helping to reach the U.S. climate goals.

So, the president can take credit for making significant strides toward the U.S. goal of reducing GHG emissions 50% from 2005 by 2030. But it wasn’t just because of the Inflation Reduction Act, and even with the law, the U.S. still falls short of its 50% goal.

Workforce Participation

Pushing back against Republican criticism that his policies have encouraged some Americans not to work, Biden said the share of “working-age Americans” in the workforce is the highest it’s been in 20 years.

Biden, July 28: And the shame [sic] of working-age Americans in the workforce — the share of them — the share of them is the highest it’s been in 20 years. Remember what they were saying? “Biden’s policy isn’t working. He’s just paying people not to work, people on the sidelines.” Well, guess what? Every single day in four years before I took office — you may remember, I took a lot of criticism in my presidency.  Republicans charged me with encouraging people to stay home and not work. Well, they were wrong. The evidence is clear: Americans are back to work who’ve been on the sidelines, and they want to come back.

The White House press office pointed us to the “prime age” labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of people age 25 to 54 who are working or seeking work.

That rate was 83.4% in May, a level that had not been reached since January 2007. It was 83.0% in February 2020, just before the pandemic sent labor participation downward to a low of 79.9% in April 2020. So Biden is correct that the labor force participation rate for prime-working-age people is a bit higher than it was pre-pandemic.

But as Republicans on the House Budget Committee noted in a “fact check” of Biden’s address, the labor force participation rate for all people age 16 and older — including those who are working or seeking work — has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. That rate was 62.6% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s lower than the 63.3% rate in the five months prior to the pandemic. The employment-to-population ratio, which measures the share of people 16 and older who are employed, was also a bit higher pre-pandemic (61.1% in January and February of 2020) than it was in May (60.3%).

University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan pointed us toward the labor force participation rate for people age 55 and older, to explain the discrepancy between prime working age versus overall participation rates. It shows that among those 55 and older, labor force participation dropped from 40.3% pre-pandemic to 38.4% in May.

“This is indicative of a human capital crisis that the Biden Administration has ignored,” Mulligan told us via email. “The massive pandemic disruption, which lasted far too long IMO, hurt the accumulation of human capital at all ages. For the young it shows up as low test scores. For younger adults it shows up as low real wages. For older adults, it shows up as both low real wages and poor health. It was a mistake to neglect chronic conditions during the pandemic, which resulted in both non-Covid mortality and morbidity. At ages 55+ especially, that morbidity shows up as earlier retirement than planned.”

But Aaron Sojourner, a senior researcher at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, said the prime-age labor force participation rate cited by Biden “is a better measure of core labor market strength than overall LFPR [labor force participation rate].”

“The Baby Boomers are crossings into retirement age,” Sojourner told us via email. “The aging of this demographic bulge systematically pulls down the overall LFPR and EPOP [employment-to-population], but not the prime age rates. … The labor market is strong.”

So, Biden’s right about the labor force participation rate for those age 24 to 55, which he imprecisely referred to as “working-age Americans.” Looking at the overall labor force participation rate for everyone 16 and older, including those 55 and above, the picture isn’t as rosy, and hasn’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels.

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