To President Trump, the only good news is pro-Trump news, and every pro-Trump stat is too good to fact check. But rarely do those two things converge so harmoniously as they did in the op-ed he tweeted Tuesday.
Trump tweeted out a Washington Examiner op-ed from Steve Cortes who, as you'll find once you get to the end of the op-ed, is actually a former Trump campaign adviser. The column is about what you'd expect given the source, including comparing Trump to NCAA basketball coaching legend John Wooden in the lead.
Nor does it proceed to hold anything back. To prove that Trump is on-par with Wooden, Cortes deploys a series of statistics and arguments that Trump himself would be proud of. Let's evaluate each of them, both for how much credit Trump deserves and whether they serve Cortes's larger purpose: To prove Trump is the John Wooden of president-ing.
“The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, falling under 4 percent for the first time since 2000. Even better, unlike during the Obama presidency, the low jobless rate was not due to people giving up and leaving the workforce.
It's true that the jobless rate is lower than it's been in nearly 18 years. It's an undeniably good story. But exactly how much credit Trump deserves is up for debate. The unemployment rate has actually continued its trend from Obama's second term, if improving slightly from Obama's final year in office. Here's the trend line from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trump is responsible for roughly everything after 1/17:
Maybe Trump deserves some credit for returning this graph to the trend line of 2015 and 2014. It's also probably more difficult to keep things moving in the right direction given we're thought to be at or near full employment right now.
BUT Cortes isn't making that point. Instead he's arguing that Obama's numbers were effectively cooked — that Obama's unemployment rate dropped because people were dropping out of the workforce and were considered not looking for work rather than unemployed. And it's true that a dropping Labor Force Participation Rate marred some of the jobs reports after the recession.
But the Labor Force Participation Rate has been effectively steady since the end of 2013. So while this might have explained the dropping unemployment rate in Obama's first term, it doesn't explain the trend of his second term — which, again, Trump largely merely continued.
“Instead, since Trump’s election, almost 1 million new workers have re-entered the labor market.”
It sounds impressive! But if you look between January and December, Obama did this every year of his presidency except for 2012, when he was just under 1 million. And given the Labor Force Participation Rate (i.e. percentage) has remained steady, that suggests this is mostly about a population increase.
“That movement toward self-sufficiency reaps myriad benefits for our society including more stable families, lower crime, and less government dependency. In fact, an amazing 2 million Americans stopped receiving food stamps during fiscal 2017.”
This has also accelerated somewhat under Trump, but “amazing” is a stretch. The number of food stamp recipients was declining by about 1 million per year in Obama's second term and dropped by 1.5 million from 2015 to 2016. Then it picked up to 2 million between 2016 and 2017.
As for whether that's because of Trump? The humming economy certainly means less people need assistance. Also, some states have re-instituted work requirements that had been waived after the recession, making it harder for people to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. So it may not be so much that people are believing in “self-sufficiency” as that they no longer qualify.
“In addition, the quality of the jobs improved as wages accelerated in the first quarter of 2018 at the fastest pace in a decade.”
This is what you call cherry-picking data. Picking one quarter (or even one month) and focusing on that is always a fraught exercise, because things tend to fluctuate.
And that's the case here. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics data show, wages rose 2.7 percent for the full year between April 2017 and March 2018. And that was actually pretty similar to what it was the prior (largely under Obama) year: 2.5 percent. There may have been a slight uptick in the first quarter, but the overall trend is steady and has been since late in Obama's presidency. It may be improving under Trump, but isolating one quarter isn't a definitive indicator that it is.
Which is really the point. Trump has a good story to tell on the economy. But often his and others' efforts to pump up his record devolve into unnecessary cherry-picking of stats and trend lines that didn't start on Jan. 20, 2017.