Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, would not like the way Trump, the president, is crowing about today’s unemployment rate. He’d be calling the whole thing a “hoax.”
Trump raised a red flag about declining jobless numbers during his campaign, denying President Barack Obama any credit. Trump noted that the jobless rate masks the true employment picture by leaving out the millions who have given up looking for work.
But Trump is seeing red no more. The same stats he assailed in 2015 and 2016 now are his proof of “fantastic,” “terrific” economic progress, for which he wants the credit.
That disconnect is part of why Trump’s statements about the economy this past week, some accurate on their face, fall short of the whole truth.
Trump also made the far-fetched claim that the economy is better than it has ever been. And in a week consumed with the dustup over a government shutdown, Trump’s doctor stepped forward with a testament to the president’s health that other physicians found to be too rosy.
A look at some recent remarks away from the din of the budget battle:
TRUMP: “Black unemployment is the best it’s ever been in recorded history. It’s been fantastic. And it’s the best number we’ve had with respect to black unemployment. We’ve never seen anything even close.” — remarks from Oval Office Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Yes, the black unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is the lowest on record. No, it’s not far and away superior to any time in the past. In 2000, it was within 1 point of today’s record for six months, and as low 7 percent.
As Trump was quick to note as a candidate, the unemployment rate only measures people without jobs who are searching for work. Like other demographic groups, fewer African-Americans are working or looking for work than in the past. Just 62.1 percent of blacks are employed or seeking a job, down from a peak of 66.4 percent in 1999.
The black unemployment rate would be much higher if the rate of black labor force participation was near its levels before the Great Recession.
During the campaign, Trump claimed that real unemployment then was a soaring 42 percent. It’s not quite clear, but he could have been referring to the percentage of the U.S. population without jobs — a figure that includes retirees, stay-at-home parents and students. At the time, he considered the official jobless rate a “phony set of numbers ... one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”
TRUMP: “We’re making incredible progress. The women’s unemployment rate hit the lowest level that it’s been in 17 years. Well, that’s something. And women in the workforce reached a record high. ... That’s really terrific, and especially since it’s on my watch.” — at women’s event Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Again — yes, but. The 4 percent jobless rate for women is at a 17-year low, just as it is for the overall population. But the labor force participation rate by women is lower today than in 2000. The proportion of women in the workforce is not at a record high.
TRUMP: “Our country is doing very well. Economically, we’ve never had anything like it.” — from Oval Office on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Never say never. The U.S. economy had better employment stats during the 2000 tech boom, for one example. It’s enjoyed stock market surges before. It’s had blazing, double-digit annual growth, a far cry from the 3.2 percent achieved during the second and third quarters of 2017. That was the best six-month pace since 2014 — hardly the best ever.
The economy added about 170,000 new jobs a month during Trump’s first year. That was slightly below the average of 185,000 in Obama’s last year.
DR. RONNY JACKSON, White House physician, on his examination of Trump: “I think he’ll remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he’s elected. ... His cardiac health is excellent.” — White House briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Physicians not connected with the White House have widely questioned that prediction of seven more years of healthy living and that conclusion about his heart. Cardiac functioning was indeed normal in the tests, according to the readings that were released. But Trump is borderline obese and largely sedentary, with a “bad” cholesterol reading above the norm despite taking medication for it. He’ll be 72 in June. It’s doubtful that most men that age with similar histories and findings would get such a glowing report from their doctors.
Trump has some things in his favor: “incredible genes, I just assume,” said his doctor, and no history of tobacco or alcohol use.
But “by virtue of his age and his gender and the fact he has high cholesterol and that he is in the overweight-borderline obese category, he is at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a primary care physician and professor of family medicine at Georgetown University. “The physician was saying, yes he’s in excellent health — but yes he does have risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Which is why the comment he will remain healthy for the remainder of his term makes little sense to me. How you can make that kind of assessment from a one-point-in-time examination? Just from those four factors he is at a higher risk.”
Trump’s LDL, the bad cholesterol, registered at 143, a number his doctor wants below 120.
Jackson also said Trump has nonclinical coronary atherosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries from plaque, which is a combination of calcium and cholesterol.
That’s common in people older than 65 and can be a silent contributor to coronary heart disease. Jackson’s conclusion was based on a coronary calcium score of 133, which Mishori called “a little bit concerning” because it could show mild coronary artery disease, although how to interpret these scores isn’t clear-cut. Jackson said he consulted a variety of cardiologists about that calcium score and the consensus was reassuring.
TRUMP: “Americans are more and more pro-life. You see that all the time. In fact, only 12 percent of Americans support abortion on demand at any time.” — remarks Friday to opponents of abortion rights.
THE FACTS: Neither side of the abortion debate is scoring breakaway support in public opinion research. Gallup said in conjunction with its poll in June: “The dispersion of abortion views today, with the largest segment of Americans favoring the middle position, is broadly similar to what Gallup has found in four decades of measurement.” In short, half said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances,” identical to a year earlier, while 29 percent said it should be legal in all circumstances. The smallest proportion, 18 percent, said it should always be illegal.
Americans’ positions on abortion are sufficiently nuanced that both sides of the debate can find polling that supports their point of view. Polling responses on abortion are also highly sensitive to how the questions are asked.
But in the main, the public is not clamoring for abortion to be banned or to be allowed in all cases.
Trump’s claim that only 12 percent support abortion “on demand” may come from a Marist poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, which opposes abortion rights. In that poll, 12 percent said abortion should be “available to a woman any time during her entire pregnancy.”
Most polls have found that a distinct minority, though more than 12 percent, think the procedure should be legal in all cases. The percentage was 25 percent in an AP-NORC poll, 21 percent in a Quinnipiac poll, both done in December.