— Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), speaking in Indianola, Monday
“Let’s speak truth that in this country right now, this economy is not working for working people … The economy is doing the great. How can that be? ‘Well, look at the unemployment numbers.’ Yeah, okay, people are working, they’re working two or three jobs to pay the bills.”
— Harris, Des Moines, Monday
“The so-called leaders are walking around saying the economy is doing great, the economy is doing great. But you got to ask, great for who? …'You can look at the unemployment rate, you can look at the unemployment numbers.' Yeah, so okay, people are working. They are working two or three jobs to pay bills.”
— Harris, Iowa City, Tuesday
Sen. Harris, apparently testing the waters for a 2020 run for the presidency, appeared in Iowa with a version of a stump speech to rally Democrats for the midterm elections. She launched into a riff about how she would “speak some truth” about how the economy “is not working for working people.”
She lays out a bunch of statistics — that many Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency (true) or that the biggest cause of bankruptcy are medical bills (probably true though the data is mixed). But she also appeared to say something that made us stop the video and constantly replay it — that the unemployment rate is low because people are working two or three jobs.
Or did she really say that? Maybe not.
We urge readers to take a look at the video above. These clips of her speeches pose a conundrum. On paper, she comes close to saying something that we criticized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, soon to be elected as representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District, for saying over the summer.
“Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs,” Ocasio-Cortez told PBS’s “Firing Line” in July. “Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family.”
That’s clearly wrong, for reasons we will explain below. But Harris is a skilled politician. She does not quite make the linkage as directly as Ocasio-Cortez. That’s particularly clear when you watch the video clips. She speaks with an ironic, slightly humorous tone. All members of the Fact Checker team viewed the clips to reach a consensus, and we wavered on whether it was misleading or not.
Some listeners might have thought it was a factual statement, given the other facts and figures Harris tossed out. It was certainly a line that was greeted with applause.
Lily Adams, communications director for Harris, said she was not trying to make a causal connection, but was relating something that she said she had heard anecdotally.
“As the senator has traveled in California and across the country, she has met many of the millions of Americans who still have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet,” Adams said. “Her statement wasn’t meant to imply causality between that reality and the unemployment rate or the trajectory of either, she was simply saying that when some point to the unemployment rate as the primary measure of economic health, it does not reflect the difficult economic reality of millions of Americans who have to work that second or third job.”
In her remarks, Harris did not indicate she was speaking anecdotally. It certainly would have been clearer if she had said: “Some people tell me they are working two or three jobs to pay bills.”
The fact of that matter is that relatively few people hold two or more jobs. As of September, only 4.9 percent of employed people had multiple jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (You only get counted once in the unemployment rate calculation no matter how many jobs you hold.)
There are almost 156 million people with jobs. But only 331,000 people had two full-time jobs, according to BLS. Another 4.2 million had both a full-time job and a part-time job, while about 2 million were juggling part-time jobs.
“After reaching a peak of 6.2 percent during 1995-96, the multiple job-holding rate began to recede,” the BLS said in a July report. “By the mid-2000s, the rate had declined to 5.2 percent and remained close to that level from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, the multiple job-holding rate decreased to 4.9 percent and has remained at 4.9 percent or 5.0 percent from 2010 to 2017.”
Given the state of the economy, the number of people with two or more jobs may decline further. For the first time in 20 years, there are now more job openings than there are people looking for work.
It’s worth noting that President Trump, when he was running for president, repeatedly used to make a similar claim about people having to hold more than one job, such as saying in September 2016: “Many people, because of Obamacare and for other reasons, are holding two jobs.” But, in June, he flipped the script: “We had people working three jobs, two jobs, and they were doing worse than they did 20 years ago. That’s not happening anymore.”
The percentage of people holding multiple jobs in 2016 and 2018 has barely budged.
The Pinocchio Test
Harris’s line may get applause, but she needs to be careful with it. Some listeners may get an impression not warranted by the facts. If she really is speaking anecdotally, she needs to be clearer. Given the uncertainty surrounding the statements, we’re not going to award Pinocchios. (Ocasio-Cortez’s phrasing was worth Four.) But readers are invited to offer their own opinion in the poll below.
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