He was in his element.
“Here at home, the great news keeps rolling in,” President Trump trumpeted during a raucous rally in Elkhart, Ind. on Thursday night. “3.3 million new jobs since election.” It was still early in the speech, and the crowd cheered loudly.
“Now,” he continued, “if during the election — and by the way, how great is Coach Bobby Knight? We love our coach. Remember, he came in …”
A brief three-minute aside as Trump explained his interactions with the former Indiana University men’s basketball coach, and how he received a call and called Knight back and so on. Trump also offered praise for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which was less enthusiastically received.
Eventually, he returned to his point.
“If we would have told you during the campaign, that we would create 3.3 million jobs in the short time, everybody back there in the fake news media” — extended booing from the crowd — “They’re fake news! Everybody back there would have said, ‘Can you imagine? He’s saying we’re going to create 3.3 million … Can you believe it?’ ” Trump said. “But, you know what? We understand. We understand. And today, today! In the history of our country, we have the most jobs available in the history of our country. Just came out.”
Let us set aside that Trump was calling the media “fake news” even as it was recording his speech, a bit of reporting that even Trump would be hard-pressed to dub “fake.” Let’s instead focus on the two claims Trump makes here: First, that the media would have been incredulous at claims that the country would add 3.3 million jobs by now; and, second, that there are more jobs available now than at any point in history.
3.3 million jobs
Trump is taking credit for a number of jobs that includes two important caveats. The first is that he’s counting jobs added nationally since Election Day, which is not a new rhetorical trick for him. Because the economy has been doing so well for so long, Trump can inflate his own numbers by taking credit for the job and stock-market growth that occurred during the three months when he was president-elect. If you look at only the jobs created since January 2017 — Trump’s first month in office but one in which he served for 11 days — the country has added 2.7 million jobs. Stretch that back to November, and you get to … 3.2 million jobs.
That’s the other caveat: Trump’s counting private-sector jobs only. That’s fine; President Barack Obama used to point to private-sector job growth, too. The difference is that Obama would generally mention that he was talking about private-sector jobs only.
Since November 2016, the country has indeed added 3.3 million private-sector jobs (rounding up from 3,269,000). Since Trump took office, the figure is a more modest 2.9 million.
As for Trump’s claim that this is a number so shocking that we in the mainstream media would have dropped our monocles into our lattes had he mentioned it on the campaign trail? Yeah, no.
Had we forecast the expected job growth from the election until April, the most recent month for which data are available, this is what we would have seen. (We’re using the trend starting from January 2010, a month before the number of people employed hit its low post-recession.)
How does that compare with the actual numbers? For both overall job growth and private-sector growth, the actual numbers have been a bit lower.
Not dramatically so, mind you. In general, the trend has been about what would have been forecast.
If we look at another way of forecasting the trend — projecting forward the same average monthly growth as seen from January 2010 to November 2016 — Trump fares a bit better. He’s overperforming on private-sector jobs by about 174,000 jobs and is right in line on overall jobs added.
This is not a victory for Trump. Using this projection as a baseline, celebrating overshooting the mark is a bit as if he said he was going to get to a party at 8:30 and arrived at 8:29 and 48 seconds. Had he predicted on the campaign trail an increase in 3.3 million private-sector jobs from November 2016 to April, the response would have been, “That’s right in line with how job growth has looked since the low point of the recession,” not “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?”
Well, to be fair, the media would also likely have said, “Why is he starting at November 2016?” But that’s a different issue.
More jobs available
Then there’s that claim about how “there are more jobs available now than at any point in history.” That’s sort of true, again demanding important caveats.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of job openings in March was a bit shy of 6.6 million — about the same as the number of people tallied as unemployed that month. It’s the first time on record that there have been as many jobs as there are unemployed people and the highest number of job openings on record.
The problem? The government started tracking this number at the end of the year 2000, at the same point that unemployment was this low.
In other words, there are no numbers from the economic boom of the 1990s. The population of the United States has grown substantially since the 1990s, of course, so it’s natural that the number of people who are employed — and therefore jobs to be filled — would be substantially higher than it was then. In other words, it’s likely that even considering the strength of the economy 20 years ago, the raw number of job openings now is likely higher than it would have been tallied then simply because there are so many more people.
It’s also likely that the number of job openings would have exceeded the number of unemployed people at that point, too. Even in January 2001, the two figures were awfully close, just as the economy was starting to slow down.
Why’s it important that Trump again presented economic figures that take broadly accurate points and overstate them by stripping away the caveats? Because the context in which he did so was to accuse the media of lying and doubting his record. It’s a good illustration of how he and many of his allies approach the media: We’re pushed into a position of pointing out that the things he says aren’t accurate, which is then used to present us as biased, hostile or lying. (He typed, while nibbling on the offered bait.)
The economy is doing well. About as well as one might have expected. For a president who deals in hyperbole, though, “as expected” is never good enough.