The opening night of the Democratic National Convention was designed to help foster unity between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton camps — and attack GOP nominee Donald Trump. Here’s a roundup of some of the most noteworthy claims that were made. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios for a roundup of claims made in convention events.
“It is not moral, not acceptable and not sustainable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, or that the top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income.”
— Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
This is one of Sanders’s favorite lines, but through much of the campaign he has referred to the top 1 percent earning 58 percent of new income. Suddenly, the number has jumped to “85 percent,” even though fresh data shows that the number has been revised down to 52 percent.
What gives? It turns out Sanders decided to rely on a data set that was not nearly as up to date, permitting him to tout misleading figures that still reflect the damaging after-effects of the Great Recession.
The first part of Sanders’s statement is based on a 2014 working paper by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman that found that wealth has become increasingly concentrated among the super-wealthy, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The average wealth of bottom 90 percent — 144 million families with average wealth of $84,000 — had increased in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but then collapsed in the financial crisis.
The top 1/10 of 1 percent is composed of 160,000 families with net assets of at least $20 million. These families saw their share of wealth increase from 7 percent of total household wealth in the 1970s to 22 percent in 2012; by contrast, the bottom 90 percent saw their share of wealth drop from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to 23 percent in 2012. As Sanders noted, that means the top 0.1 percent own almost as much as the bottom 90 percent.
There is increasing evidence that the situation may have improved since 2012. Sanders at the start of his campaign used to say that 70 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent based on another Saez study looking at 2009-2013, but he had to shift his rhetoric after Saez in June 2015 updated that study with figures dating to 2014. The new numbers showed that the top 1 percent captured 58 percent of total real income growth between 2009 and 2014.
In June 2016, Saez updated his figures again to include data for 2015, and it showed yet again that share going to the top 1 percent had dropped; it is now 52 percent for the period between 2009 and 2015.
When we first spotted the “85 percent,” we thought the numbers in “58” might have accidentally transposed. But Warren Gunnels, a Sanders aide, said the senator was relying on a study from the Economic Policy Institute, also published in June, that concluded “for the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013.”
But that’s not as recent as the Saez’s calculations, which have shown that the share earned by the top 1 percent has fallen with each year since the Great Recession. “The recovery now looks somewhat more even,” Saez said.
“This election is about ending … the reality that 47 million men, women and children live in poverty.”
This an accurate statistic, drawn from the most recent Census Bureau data concerning the official poverty measure. That showed that the number of people in poverty in 2014 was nearly 46.7 million people.
During the campaign, Sanders would sometimes say that “we have more people living in poverty today than almost any time in the modern history of this country.” That was a bit of a stretch.
Forty-seven million is the highest figure since the Census Bureau started collecting the data in 1959. But it is important to note that in 1959, the number of people in poverty was 39 million, but the percentage of the population in poverty was 22.4 percent. Now, in 2014, the percentage in poverty is 14.8 percent, which is lower than any year between 1959 through 1966, as well as two years in the 1980s, 1993 and three different years in the Obama administration. The rate in 2014 is also the same as 2013 and 1992.
In other words, the poverty rate in 2014 is lower or the same as more than one-quarter of the years since the Census Bureau started issuing its annual reports on poverty.
“This election is about ending the 40-year decline of our middle class.”
Sanders may be referring to research that the share of adults in middle-income households has fallen since the 1970s. FiveThirtyEight wrote about this research in response to Sanders’s claims during the primary campaign that the middle class has been disappearing for the past 40 years.
Just under 50 percent of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2015, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of Pew data. That’s down from 61 percent in 1971, the earliest year that Pew’s data dates to. “Meanwhile, the share of income going to middle-income households has also fallen, from 62 percent in 1971 to 43 percent last year,” FiveThirtyEight wrote.
FiveThirtyEight noted that it’s not clear how big of a concern this decline is, or if it really represents the “death of the middle class.” For example, one reason the middle class is shrinking is that more people are getting richer, while others are getting poorer. Moreover, FiveThirtyEight added, the “typical American household has changed dramatically over the past three decades” — for example, the aging population earns less in retirement.
The Sanders campaign previously has pointed to the Economic Policy Institute’s data that American workers’ wages have not kept up with inflation since 1968.
[Update: A reader pointed out to us that looking at income data alone does not capture the savings the working middle class has gained in the past 40 years through pre-taxable income deferred savings plans and through new tax deductions and credits. Moreover, since the 1980s, unions have traded wage increases for other tax-free or tax-deferred benefits, like healthcare and pension contributions, the reader noted.]
“Donald Trump thinks that women should just work harder because — and I’m quoting — ‘You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.’ Every woman in America knows — that’s not true! Hillary believes that women deserve equal pay.”
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
This quote appears to have been taken out of context. At a town hall in October, Trump was specifically asked what would happen under a Trump presidency: “If you become president, will a woman make the same as as man?”
Trump responded: “You’re going to make the same if you do as good a job.”
Here’s the video:
Our friends at FactCheck.org have noted other instances where Trump has expressed skepticism about equal-pay legislation — a not uncommon position for Republicans, who say it will generate lawsuits but not deal with a core issue of wage disparity.
In her speech introducing her father at the Republican National Convention on July 21, Ivanka Trump said her father paid women equally in his companies and he understood that labor regulations had not been updated to accommodate the needs of women in the workforce.
“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put in place at a time in which women were not a significant part of the workforce, and he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she said, attributing the wage gap mainly to fact that women take breaks from the workforce to have children.
Trump, however, thus far has not proposed specific policies regarding equal pay for women during the campaign. For more on the statistics concerning the wage gap, see our guide to the data.
“Donald Trump says that when it comes to paid family leave, ‘you have to be careful of it.’ Hillary knows that it’s long past time for guaranteed paid family leave.”
Trump has indicated support for company-based child-care programs but has expressed some skepticism about a national mandate and its impact on employment. (Clinton, whose husband as president signed into law unpaid leave, only recently decided to push for national paid family leave. Her proposal would be paid for with a tax on the wealthy rather than a payroll tax borne by employees and employers.)
A Trump campaign official indicated that Trump is working on a formal proposal. “I know that Ivanka is very interested in the subject, and we have discussed alternatives,” he said.
“Donald Trump actually stood on a debate stage and said that wages are ‘too high.’”
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
“This November, we have a choice. You can choose a candidate who’s only out for himself, who wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage, and who would cut taxes for the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class.”
— Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
“Donald Trump wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage.”
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Trump has made contradictory statements on the minimum wage, so here is some necessary context to the claims by Gillibrand, Casey and Warren.
During a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump was asked whether he was “sympathetic to the protesters’ cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year.” His full answer, with the part Gillibrand is quoting in bold:
“I can’t be, Neil. And the reason I can’t be is that we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. Our taxes are too high. I’ve come up with a tax plan that many, many people like very much. It’s going to be a tremendous plan. I think it’ll make our country and our economy very dynamic.
But, taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”
Days later, Trump clarified he was referring to whether he would increase the minimum wage. He would not raise it, because then it would be “too high,” he said.
Then in May 2016, Trump appeared to support states raising minimum wages, and to oppose the federal government setting a floor on wages for states to raise. Trump also said that he didn’t “know how people make it on $7.25 an hour.”
But Trump has indicated since then that “he might be willing to trade a minimum-wage increase to obtain another policy goal,” the Wall Street Journal reported on July 19.
“He ended up bankrupting not one, not two, not three but four of his companies.”
— Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
Hillary Clinton and her Democratic supporters like to use this line, but it could use an update. Donald Trump has actually filed six bankruptcies.
Trump’s companies have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means a company can remain in business while wiping away many of its debts. The bankruptcy court ultimately approves a corporate budget and a plan to repay remaining debts; often shareholders lose much of their equity.
Trump’s Taj Mahal opened in April 1990 in Atlantic City, but six months later, “defaulted on interest payments to bondholders as his finances went into a tailspin,” The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow found. In July 1991, Trump’s Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy. He could not keep up with debts on two other Atlantic City casinos, and those two properties declared bankruptcy in 1992. A fourth property, the Plaza Hotel in New York, declared bankruptcy in 1992 after amassing debt.
PolitiFact uncovered two more bankruptcies filed after 1992, totaling six. Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts filed for bankruptcy again in 2004, after accruing about $1.8 billion in debt. Trump Entertainment Resorts also declared bankruptcy in 2009, after being hit hard during the 2008 recession.
(In her speech, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who used to teach bankruptcy law at Harvard Law School, got the number right.)
“I will protect, preserve and defend the post-9/11 GI bill. … Unfortunately, there are some Republicans in Congress chipping away at it. That’s not just wrong, it is shortsighted.”
— Hillary Clinton, speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, in Charlotte
Clinton likely is referring to the pending omnibus bill in Congress, the Veterans First Act, pushed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as a measure to bring accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It includes a provision that would cut about $3.4 billion from a post-9/11 GI bill housing program — the student veterans’ housing allowance. Clinton’s campaign did not respond to our request for clarification.
The Military Times described the education benefit cut as one of the most controversial aspects of the omnibus bill, which proposes major changes that would help overhaul the VA. The cut “brings the veterans benefit in line with Defense Department housing stipends, a move lawmakers initially planned last year but deferred until now,” the Military Times reported.
But the Veterans First Act is supported by both Republicans and Democrats and has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican. Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice-presidential pick, supported the legislation. The Senate VA Committee unanimously supported the measure.
Several veterans groups, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, support the Veterans First Act, though they do not specifically support the cut to the GI bill program. Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has been one of the most outspoken critics of the bill and has opposed the GI program cuts.
Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA chief executive, said lawmakers’ stance on the Veterans First Act or the GI program cuts is not a partisan issue — though he noted that the Senate VA Committee is led by a Republican chairman. Rieckhoff noted that neither President Obama nor Donald Trump has clearly opposed the omnibus bill and the GI benefit cut.
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