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Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a false claim about black employment. She's issued a rare apology

Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a false claim about black employment. She's issued a rare apology
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes questions from the media at the White House on Aug. 14. (Michael Reynolds / EPA-Shutterstock)

President Trump and administration officials frequently overstate the strength of the labor market and their role in it, but now, a top White House official has admitted she went too far with the latest claim about black employment.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has issued a rare public apology for saying at Tuesday’s news briefing that Trump already had created three times more jobs for black people than former President Obama did during his entire eight-year term.

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It’s not true. Not even close.

The economy added 2.95 million jobs for black people during Obama’s term, according to the Labor Department. That’s more than four times the 708,000 jobs so far since Trump took office.

“I’m sorry for the mistake, but no apologies for the 700,000 jobs for African Americans created under President Trump,” Sanders tweeted Tuesday night.

In recent months, Trump has touted the decline in the black unemployment rate, though the rate has been steadily declining since hitting a recent high of 16.8% in early 2010. Economists have said Trump’s policies have simply extended the long trend that began under his predecessor.

Sanders said her inaccurate statement stemmed from using the wrong “time frame” for job creation under Obama and included a tweet from the White House Council of Economic Advisors issuing its own mea culpa, saying it had provided her with inaccurate data.

Reporters had been questioning Sanders on Tuesday about Trump’s views of African Americans amid the controversy over a new book by former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman when Sanders made the claims about job growth for black people.

Manigault Newman, who had been the top-ranking African American in the White House, claimed she had heard an audiotape of Trump using the N-word. Trump had taken to Twitter on Tuesday morning to call Manigault Newman “that dog.”

It was another in a series of recent disparaging public remarks Trump has made about black people, including questioning the intelligence of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, CNN anchor Don Lemon and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles.)

Sanders was pressed at the briefing about whether she could guarantee that Americans would never hear Trump using the expletive on any recording. Sanders said she couldn’t but then used the black unemployment data to defend Trump.

“This president, since he took office, in the year and a half that he’s been here has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans,” she said.

“When President Obama left after eight years in office — eight years in office — he had only created … 195,000 jobs for African Americans,” Sanders continued. “President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s briefing, the Council of Economic Advisors had prepared a chart showing black and Hispanic employment changes 20 months after the elections of Obama and Trump.

Sanders misread the time frame on the chart, which showed that black jobs declined by 636,000 from Obama’s election in November 2008 to July 2010. The chart also showed that black jobs increased by 831,000 in the 20 months after Obama’s reelection in 2012. Sanders apparently subtracted the 636,000 from the second figure to get the 195,000 total for Obama.

It’s a misleading time period because economists say it takes months after a president assumes office, let alone simply after an election, for his policies to affect the labor market.

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What’s more, Trump inherited a strong labor market and solid economy, and benefits greatly by comparing himself to the first term of Obama, who inherited the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.

Aaron Sojourner‏, who served as senior labor economist at the Council of Economic Advisors under Obama, said the group historically has stuck to basic economic analysis.

“CEA doesn’t usually engage in this kind of partisan political framing,” said Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota. “CEA’s role is generally … to try to illuminate what’s going on through economic analysis.”

But Trump often starts the job-creation clock for his term with his election in November 2016. Comparing those periods also pulls Obama’s record even deeper into the Great Recession, which began in late 2007 and did not end until June 2009.

He also has made boasts about black unemployment that are misleading.

In May, the rate dropped to 5.9%, the lowest since the Labor Department began tracking it in 1972.

“Black unemployment’s at an all-time low,” Trump said at an Aug. 2 rally in Wilkes Barre, Pa. That was incorrect as the rate had risen to 6.5% in June.

The next day, the Labor Department reported the rate had ticked up even more to 6.6% in July.

Sojourner‏ responded to Sanders on Tuesday by posting a chart on Twitter showing the steady increase in black employment since 2010.

“It has grown so steadily for so long. Nothing special recently,” he tweeted. “The administration was born on third base & wants us to think it hit a triple.”

A White House spokeswoman declined additional comment Wednesday.

12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with Times staff reporting and analysis.

This article was originally published at 8:40 a.m.

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