We noted at the time that the trends indicated — when we could identify what the actual data were — generally showed the continuation of trends that had begun under President George W. Bush. That was the point, writers at the conservative site ZeroHedge (which had produced the graphs) argued in response: Things hadn’t gotten better.
With more than two years of Trump’s presidency now in the history books, we figured it was a good time to revisit those nine graphs to see whether the trends had shifted and, if so, when the reversals had begun. It’s important to note that not all of these metrics are objectively negative, so apply whichever grains of salt you deem appropriate.
We walk through them from left to right, top to bottom below. We used data beginning in 2000 for each chart through the most recent data point. (When data weren’t available for 2000, we used the oldest available data as a starting point.)
What it actually was: Outstanding student loan debt.
Over the past decade, the amount of outstanding student loan debt has grown steadily. The chart shared by Trump is misleading in representing how big that spike has been by stretching out the data before 2003. Since 2006, that increase in debt looks like this.
In this chart (as in the charts below), the gray box indicates the duration of Obama’s two terms in office, from January 2009 to January 2017. Points to the left are Bush; points to the right are Trump. The vertical dashed line indicates where the chart shared by Trump in 2016 ends.
The story here is simple: Student loan debt continues to accrue at about the same rate under Trump as it did under Obama.
Verdict: No change.
What it actually was: Annual average participation in the Agriculture Department’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).
One of the points glossed over in the charts that Trump shared is that Obama came into office at the tail end of a massive recession. During the first few years of his presidency, food-stamp use increased, a function of people making ends meet during the slow economy.
The chart shared by Trump ends right at the peak of the use of SNAP. Over the next several years, use declined.
Verdict: The trend began reversing under Obama.
What it actually was: The amount of debt held by the federal government.
This one is straightforward. Despite Trump railing about the increase in debt under Obama, that increase has continued during his presidency.
In fact, the federal debt is increasing faster under Trump than it did at the end of Obama’s second term.
Verdict: The trend has accelerated under Trump.
What it actually was: Assets held by the Federal Reserve.
When we first looked at these charts three years ago, it wasn’t clear what “money printing” referred to. Happily, Dan Ludwinski, then with the Cornell University department of economics, emailed to explain what the chart was showing. (He also said that calling it “money printing” was “laughably inaccurate.”)
After spiking at the tail end of the Bush administration — as the recession kicked in — the value of assets held by the Federal Reserve continued increasing until 2015 or so. Under Trump, those assets have been reduced.
But perhaps too quickly. Reports suggest that the Fed had been reducing its assets too quickly and will soon stop doing so, stopping at around $3.5 trillion.
Verdict: Trend reversed under Trump.
What it actually was: We’re still not sure.
The graph shared by Trump appears to be an index of health-care costs, but it’s not clear what figures it actually represents.
We looked instead at per-capita health-care expenditures, which increased steadily under Obama.
If, instead, we look at national health-care spending per person, the trend looks fairly similar.
Neither data point extends into the Trump administration, however.
“Labor force participation”
What it actually was: The percentage of people of working age who are working or seeking employment.
One of the trends that emerged during the Obama administration was a decline in the percentage of working-age people working or looking for work. Part of that change was a function of the recession. Another part was that baby boomers were starting to hit retirement age.
The decline appears to have halted in 2015.
Since then, it’s remained relatively flat.
Verdict: Trend ended under Obama.
What it actually was: An income inequality measurement for black households.
To measure income inequality, economists use something called the Gini coefficient, which essentially measures how far an economy is from an ideal distribution of income. A perfectly distributed economy is one in which everyone has the same income, yielding a Gini coefficient of zero.
Black inequality rose during Obama’s administration — but only slightly. The scale of the graph Trump tweeted made the increase seem much steeper. It generally tracked with the coefficient for white households.
Under Trump, the measures have been about the same.
Verdict: No change.
“Median family income”
What it actually was: Real median household income.
Again, Obama came into office during a recession. Incomes had fallen. By the time he left office, real median incomes — incomes adjusted for inflation — had rebounded.
Here’s what that looked like for family incomes, which is what Trump’s chart purported to show.
But Trump’s chart actually showed real household income. That chart looks like this, with a vertical scale that’s closer to Trump’s chart.
Either way, the story is the same.
Verdict: Trend reversed under Obama.
What it actually was: What it says.
Another one that’s pretty straightforward. The homeownership rate is a measure of households that own their own homes. Homeownership declined in tandem with the recession, a recession driven in part by bad mortgages. By the third quarter of 2016, the drop had begun to reverse.
Under Trump, that turnaround has continued.
Verdict: Trend began reversing under Obama.
Of the nine metrics that Trump tweeted, we can make determinations about what happened in eight cases. In four, the trends indicated began to reverse under Obama. In three, there hasn’t been a change in the trend. In one, the Federal Reserve’s assets, there was a shift in the trend under Trump.
Whether this suggests that Trump’s economy is significantly better on these indexes than Obama’s is a determination we’ll leave to you.