Presidential speeches to joint sessions of Congress normally get meticulously scrubbed to ensure accuracy. In past administrations, even minor misstatements have sometimes turned into major issues.
The Trump administration has a very different relationship with facts, as has been repeatedly documented. Tuesday night’s speech by the president had fewer untrue statements than many of his remarks, but still included several that were false or misleading.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable claims:
“Since my election, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Wal-Mart and many others have announced that they will invest billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs.”
The president often takes credit for these job announcements, but some of the decisions were made long before his election. Softbank, for example, announced its expansion plans weeks before the November election. Fiat’s chief executive has said the company’s decision to expand was made long ago and had nothing to do with Trump.
“We must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited … 94 million Americans are out of the labor force.”
Well, if you include roughly 41 million who are retired, yes. You also have to include about 15 million students who are not looking for work. Homemakers make up another big chunk.
In short, while a large number of Americans don’t work, most of those who aren’t working have good, traditional reasons for not doing so.
Hiding behind Trump’s misleading statistic is a real issue: the share of Americans who are in the labor force has gone down in recent years.
Some of the decline comes from the aging of the huge baby boom generation, now moving into retirement. But part of the decline also represents people who have dropped out because they can’t find jobs that pay enough.
Economists differ about how many of those discouraged workers exist and whether that number is still on the rise.
“We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved.”
U.S. manufacturing employment has fallen by one-fourth since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994. But American factory payrolls were declining well before NAFTA, and most of the job losses have not been a result of the trade deal.
Moving work to Mexico and especially to China has cost American manufacturing plants and jobs, but most economists believe the bigger culprit was automation and new and faster ways of producing goods: robots and the Internet, for example.
U.S. manufacturing output today is at a record high even though many fewer workers are employed in manufacturing. More goods are being produced than ever before, but with far fewer workers — 12.3 million manufacturing workers as of January, compared with 19.3 million in the same month in 1980.
“We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job‑crushing regulations … stopping a regulation that threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”
The move Trump referred to stopped an environmental rule meant to protect streams from pollution stemming from mining.
Coal companies cheered Trump’s decision, but whether it will actually bring back very many coal mining jobs is a different issue.
Environmental regulations are not the main reason the coal industry is shrinking — the realities of the energy market and cheap natural gas are. Trump can do little to change that.
That much was clear this month when operators of the biggest coal plant in the West, the Navajo Generating Station, announced they can no longer afford to keep it going. The planned closure by 2019 of the plant near Page, Ariz., will likely mean the loss of hundreds of coal-related jobs in a region that badly needs work.
Community leaders demanded that the Trump administration step in with a plan to save them. But the owners of the plant say relief from environmental regulations is not what they need. The only way to save the plant, they say, would be an expensive federal bailout.
F-35 FIGHTER JET
“We’ve saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of the fantastic new F-35 jet fighter.”
As with the announcements by companies of new jobs, Trump is taking credit for a decision that was made before he took office. The amount he claims to have saved is similar to a cut that was already planned.
“We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials.”
Trump’s statement is true, but only partially. The part he didn’t say is that the ban he imposed is less stringent in some regards than similar bans that existed under George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century.”
This statement provides a good example of how an accurate statistic can be used in a misleading manner. The murder rate in 2015 was about 10% higher than in 2014. That’s a big single-year increase. But the reason the increase was big in percentage terms was partially because the 2014 murder rate was among the lowest in decades. A relatively small increase in the absolute number of killings yielded a big percentage increase.
The increase that did take place mostly reflected more killings in a small number of cities, including Chicago and Baltimore. In most of the country, the murder rate continues to be at an historically low level.
“Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.”
This is a major exaggeration.
Health insurance premiums on marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act did increase markedly this year in many parts of the country as insurers dealt with higher-than-expected medical claims from patients.
But most consumers are still able to get health plans for less than $100 a month on the marketplaces, thanks to insurance subsidies made available by Obamacare.
More broadly, Trump’s attacks miss a much larger part of the Obamacare story.
Marketplaces represent a fraction of the overall system, providing coverage to only about 11 million people, most of whom cannot get coverage through an employer or other government program.
By comparison, more than 150 million Americans get health coverage through an employer. An additional 55 million elderly and disabled Americans get coverage through the federal Medicare program.
Healthcare costs in the employer market and in Medicare have been rising at historically low levels since the enactment of the 2010 health law.
In 2016, for example, annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of just 3%, according to a survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.
And since 2011, premiums have risen 20%, far less than in the previous five years, when premiums jumped 31%, and even lower than in the five years between 2001 and 2006, when they shot up 63%.
Medicare has seen a similar slowdown, as the cost per enrollee has grown by an average of just 1.4% annually since 2011, according to the last report by the program’s trustees.
That was the lowest growth rate in Medicare’s history, dating to 1965.
Meanwhile, the law’s coverage expansion has helped more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans get health coverage.
And new research shows the law is dramatically improving poor patients’ access to medical care, particularly in states that have used the law to expand their Medicaid safety nets.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone.”
The issue of whether immigration holds down wages is a hotly debated one. Economists who have studied the issue have generally found a fairly small impact, mostly on workers at the bottom of the pay scale.
Immigrants have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans, so enforcing the immigration laws may not have much impact on crime.
The claim that immigration enforcement will save “billions and billions of dollars” is almost certainly an exaggeration. Immigrants in the U.S. illegally impose costs on some parts of the economy and produce benefits for other parts. Most studies have shown that the net value is positive.
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