President Trump’s State of the Union speech once again was chock-full of stretched facts and dubious figures. Many of these claims have been fact-checked repeatedly, yet the president persists in using them. Here, in the order in which he made them, are nearly 30 statements by the president.
As is our practice with live events, we do not award Pinocchio rankings, which are reserved for complete columns.
“We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs.”
Trump often inflates the number of jobs created under his presidency by counting from Election Day, rather than when he took the oath of office. There have been almost 4.9 million jobs created since January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of which 436,000 are manufacturing jobs, according to the BLS.
This is an impressive gain for almost two years; under President Barack Obama, about 900,000 manufacturing jobs were gained over seven years from the 2010 nadir after the Great Recession. Moreover, despite the recent gains, the number of manufacturing jobs is still nearly 1 million below the level at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.
“Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades.”
Wages rose 3.1 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, according to the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index for civilian workers, a widely watched measure of pay that does not take inflation into account. That is the biggest increase — not adjusted for inflation — since the year that ended in December 2008.
But adjusted for inflation, wages for all workers grew 1.3 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, making the increase only the largest since August 2016, according to the Labor Department.
It’s worth noting that although real wage gains were higher in 2015 and 2016, that was a period of almost no inflation. So Trump can claim some credit for decent real wage growth now with inflation back at about 2 percent.
The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, says nominal wage growth has been below a 3.5 percent target during the recovery. But the White House argues that traditional economic measures do not fully capture increases in compensation, such as bonuses, and so real wages have actually increased even more than shown in the economic data.
“Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.”
About 3.6 million people (not nearly 5 million) have stopped receiving food stamps since February 2017, according to the latest data. But experts say the improvement in the economy may not be the only reason for the decline.
Several states have rolled back recession-era waivers that allowed some adults to keep their benefits for longer periods of time without employment. Reports have also suggested immigrant families with citizen children have dropped out of the program, fearing the administration’s immigration policies. Moreover, the number of people collecting benefits has been declining since fiscal 2014.
“The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world — not even close.”
Trump accurately says the most recent numbers, showing 3.4 percent GDP growth in the third quarter of 2018, are roughly twice the 1.8 percent rate from his first quarter in office. But GDP growth fluctuates. It has gone up and down and into negative territory and then up again since the end of the Great Recession.
GDP growth has averaged 2.8 percent per quarter so far in Trump’s presidency, not much higher than Obama’s average of 2.1 percent for his two terms in office. Trump has seen growth top 4 percent in one quarter, but Obama topped it three times during his term and in one quarter topped 5 percent.
“Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African American, Hispanic American and Asian American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.”
This is all in the past. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rate increased to 4 percent in January. The unemployment rate in December was no longer at a 49-year low, but an 18-year low. Now it is merely the best since the beginning of 2018.
The African American unemployment statistic has been in existence for less than 50 years. It reached a low of 5.9 percent in May 2018, but rose to 6.8 percent in January. The Hispanic American unemployment statistic has been in existence for less than 50 years. It reached a low of 4.4 percent in 2018, but rose to 4.9 percent in January. The Asian American statistic has been around for less than 20 years. And while it reached a low of 2.1 percent in May 2018, it rose to 3.2 percent rate in January.
“More people are working now than at any time in our history — 157 million.”
This is a pretty meaningless statistic. The U.S. population is growing, so of course more people would be employed.
“We virtually ended the estate, or death, tax on small businesses, ranchers and family farms.”
This is an enormous stretch. Trump often claims he saved family farms and small businesses by gradually reducing the federal estate tax. Reducing the estate tax primarily benefits the wealthy. The estate tax rarely falls on farms or small businesses, since only those leaving behind more than $5 million pay it. According to the Tax Policy Center, nearly 5,500 estates in 2017 — out of nearly 3 million — were subject to the tax. Of those, only 80 taxable estates would be farms and small businesses.
“We have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”
The notion that “a revolution” in energy began under the Trump administration is wrong. The United States has led the world in natural gas production since 2009. Crude oil production has been increasing rapidly since 2010, reaching record levels in August 2018, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
In September 2018, the United States passed both Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the largest global crude oil producer. It is expected to hold that position, according to predictions from the International Energy Agency.
“And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”
The United States is not yet a net energy exporter, although the Energy Information Administration estimates it will become one in coming years. Trump overstates the impact of his energy policy.
(Correction: We previously said the United States has been a net energy exporter since 2015. Trump’s claim is still inaccurate.)
“One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north.”
The White House attributes the 1-in-3 estimate to a 2017 report by Doctors Without Borders. But there’s less to that number than meets the eye.
Trump states as a fact that 1 out of 3 women traveling through Mexico are sexually assaulted. But the report did not conduct a random-sample survey that could be applied to all migrant women. Instead, the group interviewed nearly 500 people whom its doctors treated. Of those people, 12 percent were women. So the statistic is derived from the experiences of 56 women and cannot necessarily be considered representative of all migrant women.
In the interviews, 31.4 percent of women said they were “sexually abused” on the journey, not “sexually assaulted” as Trump says. Considering only rape and other forms of direct sexual violence, 10.7 percent of the women who were interviewed said they were affected during their journey.
“The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.”
By any available measure, there is no new security crisis at the border.
Apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border peaked most recently at 1.6 million in 2000 and have been in decline since, falling to just under 400,000 in fiscal 2018. The decline is partly because of technology upgrades; tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; a decline in migration rates from Mexico; and a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol officers.
The fiscal 2018 number was up from just over 300,000 apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border for fiscal 2017, the lowest level in more than 45 years.
There are far more cases of travelers overstaying their visas than southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported 606,926 suspected in-country overstays, or twice the number of southern border apprehensions. In fiscal 2016, U.S. officials reported 408,870 southern border apprehensions and 544,676 suspected in-country overstays.
The big issue at the southern border: waves of thousands of Central Americans running from poverty and violence in their home countries and seeking entry to the United States.
But here’s the catch: Any wall would be built a mile or so inland from the border. Many of those attempting to immigrate are Central Americans seeking asylum. To petition for asylum, a person needs to be on U.S. soil under current law. So in theory, immigrants could cross the border and file a legally valid petition for asylum before reaching Trump’s wall. The incentive would still exist, and so would the visa overstays.
“Meanwhile, working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”
Trump exaggerates the link between immigration and crime; almost all research shows legal and illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population.
In general, economists say illegal immigration tends to affect less-educated and low-skilled American workers the most, which disproportionately encompasses black men and recently arrived, low-educated legal immigrants, including Latinos.
The consensus among economic research studies is that the impact of immigration is primarily a net positive for the U.S. economy and to workers overall, especially over the long term. According to a comprehensive 2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on the economic impacts of the U.S. immigration system, studies on the impact of immigration showed “the seemingly paradoxical result that although larger immigration flows may generate higher rates of unemployment in some sectors, overall, the rate of unemployment for native workers declines.”
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
Trump appears to be echoing comments he heard from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Jan. 10, but this claim is wrong.
The El Paso Times, in a fact check, said some form of barrier has existed between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for decades, though Trump appeared to be referring to fencing that was completed in mid-2009: “Looking broadly at the last 30 years, the rate of violent crime reached its peak in 1993, when more than 6,500 violent crimes were recorded. Between 1993 and 2006, the number of violent crimes fell by more than 34 percent and less than 2,700 violent crimes were reported. The border fence was authorized by [President George W.] Bush in 2006, but construction did not start until 2008. From 2006 to 2011 — two years before the fence was built to two years after — the violent crime rate in El Paso increased by 17 percent.”
The city had the third-lowest violent crime rate among 35 U.S. cities with a population over 500,000 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 — before construction of a 57-mile-long fence started in mid-2008.
“Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.”
Most drugs come into the United States across the southern border with Mexico. But a wall would not necessarily stanch the flow, as much of these drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry or underground tunnels. Trump mentioned meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, but leaves out that the death toll from drug abuse is mostly attributable to prescription and illicit drug overdoses, which claim more lives than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined.
“The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in at least 20 different American states, and they almost all come through our southern border. . . . We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border they’re going to keep streaming back in.”
Trump mentions 20 different states, but experts say MS-13 is concentrated in three areas: Los Angeles, Long Island and the Washington area.
His claim that MS-13 members are being removed “by the thousands” is dubious. The Trump administration is deporting hundreds of MS-13 members per year. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it deported 1,332 members of MS-13 in fiscal 2018, and another 1,000 or so in the previous year, fiscal 2017, which included part of Obama’s term.
“In the last two years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 killings.”
These figures involve a mix of serious and nonviolent offenses such as immigration violations.
Notice how Trump switches quickly from the total for arrests over two years to the total for charges and convictions: “nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 killings.”
These numbers for arrests and charges are apples and oranges. By switching from one to the other, Trump confuses the issue and exaggerates the criminality. In many cases, the people arrested face multiple counts. Furthermore, not all charges result in convictions.
“My administration has sent to Congress a common-sense proposal to end the crisis on our southern Border. It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.”
Actually, Trump’s proposal would not provide humanitarian assistance to Central American children. The purpose of his plan is to dissuade these children from attempting the trip to the United States. But they could still be in danger in their home countries. For many of them, that’s the whole point of seeking asylum in the United States — escaping violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
Trump has proposed barring all minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from being able to present asylum claims in person to U.S. officials at the border or in other parts inside the United States. This could have a huge effect, since thousands of such children show up each month at the border and claim asylum.
Trump’s proposal would limit asylum grants to minors from these three countries at 15,000 a year, provided they apply while remaining in another country. It would also impose a new fee for their asylum applications, remove judicial review of asylum decisions by administration officials, require that these minors already have a qualified parent or guardian in the United States, and other limitations.
“San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.”
For San Diego, Trump’s comparison goes back 23 years, to 1992, when a wall went up in that border area. But the apprehension numbers are not just down in fenced parts of the border — they’re down everywhere, including in border sections without these barriers.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reported 1.6 million southwest border apprehensions for fiscal 2000. In fiscal 2017, CBP reported nearly 304,000. That’s an 81.5 percent decline overall. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the San Diego fence that Trump mentioned, by itself, “did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border.”
“All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”
As a raw number, this was correct in December (it dropped slightly in January), but it mainly reflects the increasing size of the U.S. population. The number of overall workers is also at a high. The more relevant figure — the labor participation rate of women — is not at a record high. It stands at 57.5 percent, well below the 60.3 percent reached in April 2000.
“Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars.”
Treasury data show that there was an increase of $6.7 billion in customs duties collected in the fiscal year that ended in September, and it’s possible most of the increase is due to tariffs. But the exporters do not pay the tariffs; it is the importer, who in turn passes it on to consumers. A study by the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that 115 percent of the money raised from tariffs is being used by the administration to aid farmers hurt by the tariffs, so it’s a net loser.
“Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — or USMCA — will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers: bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with the four beautiful words: Made in the USA.”
Trump claims that he significantly overhauled the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s not a total trade revolution, as Trump promised, but USMCA does make changes to modernize trade rules in effect from 1994 to 2020, and it gives some wins to U.S. farmers and blue-collar workers in the auto sector. Economists and auto experts think USMCA is going to cause car prices in the United States to rise and the selection to go down. Some elements of the deal were borrowed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Trump scrapped at the start of his term.
“The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with preexisting conditions.”
The Trump administration has refused to defend the Affordable Care Act against a lawsuit that would end protection for patients with preexisting conditions. When the district court ruled against the law, Trump celebrated the ruling.
“Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.”
The consumer price index for prescription drugs fell by 0.6 percent for the 12 months ending in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The decline is the first time in 46 years in the December-to-December time frame, but there have been other 12-month periods with index declines, mostly recently in 2013.
The Trump administration has made it less costly for companies to apply for generic approvals. The FDA says it set a record for generic approvals in fiscal 2018 (September through October), 781, breaking the record of 763 set in the previous fiscal year.
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. . . . And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
The debate over abortion has moved to the forefront in recent weeks as many state legislatures where a majority of residents are in favor of abortion rights are moving to incorporate the Roe v. Wade standards into state law.
Now, all but seven states have prohibitions on gestational limits, from 20 to 24 weeks, or the point of “viability.” (A woman is considered to have reached full term when she is between 37-42 weeks.) Indeed, only 1.3 percent of abortions — or about 8,500 a year — take place at or after 21 weeks, according to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Guttmacher Institute.
The legislation in New York would not have “allowed a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” It states that a health-care practitioner “may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
The now-tabled bill in Virginia would have reduced the number of doctors — from three to one — required to agree that “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman” or “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” It would have also removed the phrase “substantially and irremediably” from the section describing the required conditions for a woman to have an abortion. In other words, continuing pregnancy would no longer have to “substantially and irremediably impair” a woman’s physical or mental health; it would simply need to “impair” it. Lastly, the bill would have removed the 24-hour waiting period. The bill also specifies that measures of life support “shall be available and utilized” if there is evidence of viability.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was widely criticized for his comments on the bill after he told a radio show that the procedures are “done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s not viable. So in this particular example, if a mother’s in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” Critics suggested the governor was endorsing infanticide. His office later said the governor was referring to medical treatment, not ending the life of a baby.
“For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by NATO — but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last summer that NATO allies had spent $41 billion more toward defense since Trump took office. He said in an interview with Fox News on Jan. 27 that NATO allies will have added $100 billion extra toward defense by the end of 2020. But the effort to push NATO members to spend more on defense began well before Trump took office. At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, the Obama administration secured an agreement by member nations to aim to increase their spending on defense to 2 percent of each nation’s gross domestic product within 10 years.
“When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.”
Although the Islamic State may no longer control wide swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, that does not mean the group is defeated. Two recent independent reports from the United Nations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS militants may remain in Iraq and Syria.
The group was far weaker a decade ago when U.S. forces last withdrew from Iraq. Then-CIA Director John O. Brennan said the group had been “pretty much decimated,” with “maybe 700 or so adherents left.” In other words, the group is far larger now than before the last withdrawal.
Plus, Obama set up virtually all the structure that did the key fighting against the Islamic State under Trump, and more fighters were trained and munitions dropped under Obama than under Trump. Trump’s claim of capturing 20,000 square miles is technically correct, but under Obama, all Iraqi cities (with the exception of the western half of Mosul) held by ISIS — such as eastern Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit — were retaken by end of his term, as was much of the northeastern strip of Syria along the Turkish border. The basic plan of attack in 2017 was also developed under Obama, though Trump sped up the tempo by changing the rules of engagement.
“To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.”
Although some parts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) sunset over time, gradually allowing Iran to pursue more nuclear energy research, the deal includes this permanent restriction: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” CIA Director Gina Haspel last month testified to Congress that Iran was technically in compliance with the terms of the deal.
Other international agreements to which Iran has committed itself also prohibit the development of such weapons. Iran also has agreed to let international monitors peer closely into its nuclear activities.
However, critics of the JCPOA have voiced concerns that — despite these strictures — Iran could keep working toward nuclear weapons capability under the guise of pursuing peaceful goals, such as a nuclear energy program.
Trump is alluding to the fact that the JCPOA gradually lifts restrictions on the types of nuclear activities and the level of uranium enrichment Iran may conduct. These and other provisions sunset over 10, 15, 20 or 25 years.
The president argues that easing these restrictions over time would open the door to Iran’s attaining nuclear weapons capability, rendering the JCPOA ultimately ineffective. But supporters of the Iran deal dispute that and say the JCPOA at least buys time, subjecting Iran to strong constraints on its nuclear activities for 10 to 25 years. Without the JCPOA — and if it changed its current policy and chose to do so — Iran could hasten development of nuclear weapons on an even shorter timeline than the one Trump found unacceptable, they say.
“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”
Trump exaggerates the possibility of war, which had been heightened by his own harsh rhetoric.
The president indicates that North Korea has let up its nuclear activities since he and Kim Jong Un signed a vague joint statement on denuclearization June 12. But experts say and satellite imagery indicates North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear program. The Washington Post reported that U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.
In a Worldwide Threat Assessment issued Jan. 29, the intelligence community concluded: “North Korea retains its WMD capabilities, and the IC continues to assess that it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities. North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival. . . . We continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization.”
"We have spent more than $7 trillion dollars in the Middle East.”
Trump started making a version of this claim shortly after taking office, first saying $6 trillion but then quickly elevating it to $7 trillion. Trump acts as if the money has been spent, but he is referring to a Brown University study that included estimates of future obligations through 2056 for veterans’ care. The study combines data for both George W. Bush’s war in Iraq (2003) and the war in Afghanistan (2001), which is in Central/South Asia, not the Middle East; it also includes nearly $1 trillion for homeland security spending. The cost of the combined wars will probably surpass $7 trillion by 2056, when interest on the debt is considered, almost four decades from now.
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