In recent speeches touting so-called Bidenomics, President Joe Biden has repeatedly cited the statistic that “unemployment has been below 4% for the longest stretch in over 50 years.”
It’s true, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the unemployment rate has been below that threshold for the last 18 months, a feat not accomplished since the rate was below 4% for 48 straight months between 1966 and 1970.
But there’s some cherry-picking going on.
In the months prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate during the Trump administration was below 4% for nearly 20 straight months — there was one exception in that stretch, when the rate was 4% in January 2019.
Had Biden set the threshold a tick higher, at or below 4% — instead of simply below 4% — then “the longest stretch in over 50 years” would have occurred under the president he beat in 2020 and may face again in 2024: Donald Trump.
During the Trump administration, there were 24 straight months when the unemployment rate was at or below 4%, starting in March 2018 and ending in February 2020, before the devastating economic effects of the pandemic kicked in.
By that measure, an unemployment rate at or below 4%, the Biden administration is currently riding a streak of 20 straight months — the longest stretch in over three years.
There is context with all statistics. And in the past, we have noted that Trump inherited an unemployment rate of 4.7%, which was below the median jobless rate of 5.6% (going back to 1948), and the unemployment rate had been steadily declining for seven years under President Barack Obama. That downward trend continued for three years under Trump — reaching 3.5% in January and February 2020 — until the pandemic struck, and the rate soared to a peak of 14.7% in April 2020.
Biden inherited an unemployment rate of 6.7% — higher than the historical average — but the rate had been declining for months as the worst effects of the pandemic ebbed. As it did during Trump’s initial years in office, the unemployment rate continued to decline under Biden, reaching a 50-year low of 3.4% in January and again in April — a tick lower than the 3.5% it was under Trump in February 2020, a month before the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
The unemployment rate has remained low in 2023 so far, even though many economists warned earlier in the year that rising unemployment rates were imminent.
“I kind of assume that this low [unemployment] rate is temporary for the time being,” Steve Kamin, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNBC in early February. “As Fed interest rates start biting more, as the economy slows and the labor market tightens, unemployment should start moving back up.”
It’s fair game for Biden to boast about unemployment rates near historic lows, and for a sustained period of time. But Biden’s statement that “unemployment in America has been below 4% for the longest stretch in over 50 years” — a claim he has made more than a half dozen times in the last two months — ignores the even longer stretch during the Trump administration when the rate was at or below that threshold.
Lori Robertson contributed to this story.
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