This article has been updated.
President Trump’s rejoinder for accusations that he’s racially insensitive — or racist — is to point to how much he has done for the black community. He’ll point to the unemployment rate, for example, noting that joblessness among African Americans hit record lows during his presidency. (The rate has since bounced back up slightly.) The implication seems to be that his policies have been specifically targeted toward helping black and Hispanic Americans.
On Tuesday, during one of her infrequent appearances in front of the White House press corps, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to put a finer point on Trump’s economic achievements for nonwhite Americans.
“This is a president who is fighting for all Americans, who is putting policies in place that help all Americans — particularly African Americans,” she said. “Just look at the economy alone. This president, since he took office, in the year and a half that he’s been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans. That’s 700,000 African Americans that are working now that weren’t working when this president took place.”
She continued: “When President Obama left after eight years in office — eight years in office — he had only created 195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years. Not only did he do that for African Americans, but for Hispanics — 1.7 million more Hispanics are working now.”
Over the past several years, the employment rate has increased consistently, month over month. It’s a trend that didn’t begin in January 2017 with the inauguration of Donald Trump but shortly after the end of the recession during Barack Obama’s first term.
The data make clear that there has been a steady upward trend since early 2010 — among whites, blacks and Hispanics.
What’s more, the increase in each group has been consistent; the slope of each line in the large graphs above has been largely consistent. So one wonders: How could it be the case that Trump has created three times as many jobs for black Americans? One thought might be that Sanders is counting Obama’s entire tenure, and black employment is now only slightly above where it was when jobs hit their low during that period. But black employment had rebounded to pre-recession levels by mid-2013.
So what’s going on? The explanation is simple: Sanders is wrong. By a lot.
We looked at three periods to try to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt: Entire administrations (January 2009 to January 2017 for Obama and January 2017 to July 2018 for Trump), the last 19 months of each administration (meaning all of Trump’s and the final 19 months of Obama’s) and the first 19 months of each.
In terms of entire administrations, there was a much larger expansion of the number of black jobs under Obama than Trump — four times as many. Among Hispanic Americans, the expansion was even bigger. Among whites, the job growth under Obama was more modest, relative to that under Trump, in part because the drop in the number of jobs held by white Americans during the recession was so sharp. (See the chart at right, which we’ll get to in a second.) As a percentage, the increase in white employment under Obama was twice what Trump has seen. That’s over eight years, though, not less than two.
Over the last 19 months of Obama’s administration, more jobs were created for black and Hispanic Americans than the same period under Trump. During those last 19 months, whites experienced lower job growth than they have under Trump. During the first 19 months of each administration, there’s no contest, because of the recession.
Sanders was right that about 700,000 jobs have been added in the black community and that 1.7 million more Hispanic Americans are working than when Trump came to office. Both numbers are low, in fact.
Compared with Obama’s eight years, though, Trump has — understandably! — underperformed.
Update: Shortly after the press briefing concluded, the Council of Economic Advisers admitted that they’d provided incorrect information to Sanders. Later, Sanders herself rescinded the numbers in a tweet.
The CEA apparently meant to share information comparing Trump’s first months to Obama’s — essentially the graph at right above.
That’s slightly less misleading.