In these volatile and uncertain times, it’s comforting to know there are some things that can be relied upon — Chris Sale is still baseball’s most dominant lefty, Baltimore traffic congestion on its worst day is still better than Washington, D.C. on its best, and given the opportunity President Donald Trump will flamboyantly overstate U.S. job growth and economic gains during his time in office. That last one has become so routine that one can only wonder what would happen if the U.S. did add a record number of jobs: Would Americans “get” that Mr. Trump was now telling the truth? Would the president have to actually invent new superlatives to describe his performance? Would his head explode?
But we digress. President Trump was up to his usual habits during his Tuesday speech to the United Nations General Assembly. What got the big headlines was Mr. Trump’s robust threats and taunts directed toward North Korea and Iran. But he also got around to chatting about how great his own country is doing under his leadership, something the assembled diplomats and dignitaries were surely eager to hear about. “The United States is experiencing job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time,” the president said. Well, if by “very long time,” Mr. Trump meant “weeks” or “months” or “days” — or, more pertinently, “since immediately before he took office” — then perhaps that might be true.
Here’s what the actual numbers say. During the first seven months of Mr. Trump’s term, the nation has produced 1,189,000 net new jobs compared to 1,375,000 net new jobs added during the last seven months of Barack Obama’s term. But perhaps that’s not fair, considering the difference in the time of year. Looking at the same January-August time frame in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013, Mr. Trump’s job growth is also a laggard, as each of those years produced better numbers, too, with 2014 tops at 1,734,000 new jobs. Even by shorter measures, the Trump jobs growth is somewhat ho-hum. His best month (February) with 232,000 new jobs was exceeded 28 times during Mr. Obama’s time in office.
Only in the narrow measure of “reshoring,” jobs brought back into the country or brought into the country by foreign-based firms, does Mr. Trump have something to brag about. As PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson reports, there are estimates of some improvement in the second quarter (in the neighborhood of 50,000 jobs), but no official numbers are available, and they represent a tiny fraction of the U.S. economy anyway.
Surely, candidate Donald Trump would have been slamming such statistics had they been released last year while his predecessor was living in the White House. He often ridiculed President Obama’s low unemployment numbers drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as misleading — until he took office and started bragging about BLS unemployment numbers during his watch, which he has now done publicly at least 17 times by The Washington Post’s count. He’s gone so far as to claim “record” low unemployment in 2017, but better results were achieved during six of the last 12 administrations, including those of both Bushes.
Mr. Trump’s brag about job growth earns Alternative Fact of the Week honors not just for being false (and easily proven so) but for the consistency with which he has demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth of the matter. As early as Jan. 24, Mr. Trump bragged about adding 48,000 jobs by approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which is a pure fantasy. The numbers are more likely a tenth of that or less. On Aug. 30, he bragged about 3 percent quarterly GDP growth that the previous administration “never hit” but failed to mention a 3.6 percent growth in the gross domestic product as recently as the third quarter of 2016. He claims a massive resurgence in coal mining jobs, but that hasn’t happened either.
That makes Trump hyperbole about his economic performance one of the few consistencies of his first year in office. His positions on NAFTA, the Iran nuclear deal, climate change, DACA, funding for the wall, health care reform, Syria — all are moving targets that can alter from one day’s speech to the next day’s tweet. But grossly overstating job creation and related measures like unemployment or wage growth? You could set a clock — or write a fact-checker’s to-do list — on that stone-cold, lead-pipe lock.
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