This column has been updated with 2015 figures
This is another factoid Donald Trump has been using that we previously covered in a fact-checking roundup. But since it keeps turning up in his speeches, we decided it was time for a full-fledged fact check.
Given Trump’s track record with the facts, readers will not be surprised to learn there are significant statistical problems with this factoid.
First of all, Trump starts by using a raw number — there are 2 million more Hispanics in poverty. But that’s doesn’t tell you much. The U.S. population — especially in an ethnic group with a high birthrate like Hispanics — keeps growing, year after year. So what’s more important is the poverty rate.
Second, it matters when you start counting the base year. The poverty numbers released by the Census Bureau are for the number of people in poverty as of March in each year. (Update for clarity: The data is actually collected in February, March and April, with questioners asking what happened in the previous year. So data collected in early 2009 would reflect what happened in 2008, according to the Census Bureau. That’s why it is labeled as “2008” data.)
Given that Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, the most logical thing to do would be to use the figure for 2009. But Trump reaches back to 2008 as his base.
What’s the difference in the number of Hispanics in poverty between 2008 and 2009, as the Great Recession was hitting in full force? Nearly 1.4 million people, or 70 percent of the number Trump uses on the campaign trail.
This is known as cherry-picking to get the result you want.
From March 2009 to March 2014, the most recent year available, the number of Hispanics in poverty has grown by 754,000. But as we said, the poverty rate is actually the more important number, as the number of Hispanics overall grew by nearly 7 million people.
From 2009 to 2014, the poverty rate among Hispanics fell from 25.2 percent to 23.6 percent (Update: on Sept. 13, 2016, the Census Bureau reported [table 3] the poverty rate for Hispanics fell to 21.4 percent in 2015, which is a dramatic improvement. The number of Hispanics in poverty fell by 971,000, which means it is now a net positive in the Obama years.)
In other words, the poverty rate has improved — exactly the opposite of what Trump suggests with his reliance on raw numbers.
Trump’s other statistic — that the number of Hispanic children living in poverty increased by 15 percent — is also derived from a raw number which begins in 2008. From 2009, the increase in the raw figure is a negligible 1.9 percent. (Update: the 2015 figures [Table B-2] show that the number of Hispanic children in poverty fell by 5.5 percent in the Obama years.)
But again, what’s important is the poverty rate, as the number of Hispanic children increased by more than 1 million between 2009 and 2014. The poverty rate for Hispanic children actually has fallen by 1.2 percentage points from 2009 to 2014.
The Pinocchio Test
On one level, we should be pleased that Trump’s statistics are based on an official government report. But he cherry-picks the year to inflate the figures — and then uses raw numbers, which is misleading, especially when discussing a fast-growing population such as Hispanics.
The net result is a claim that the ranks of Hispanics in poverty have grown, when in fact by basic statistical analysis the status of Hispanics has improved under President Obama. Trump earns Three Pinocchios. (Update: If Trump repeats this claim now that the 2015 numbers have been released, that will be worth Four Pinocchios.)
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