The fourth Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 campaign had 12 candidates, lasted three hours — and did not have many statements that merited fact-checking. Here are the claims that caught our attention. Our practice is not to award Pinocchios in debate roundups.

The Democratic candidates are talking about how to get more people “put to work in places like Ohio where Donald Trump has broken his promises because Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania actually in the latest jobs data have lost jobs, not gained them.”

— Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro

This is not correct, according to the latest monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate went up modestly in Ohio, from 4 percent to 4.1 percent from July to August, but remained steady in Pennsylvania at 3.9 percent and declined from 4.3 percent to 4.2 percent in Michigan. The number of jobs — the size of labor forces — increased in all three states.

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The Castro campaign pointed to a March-to-July slippage in non-farm employment to justify his answer, but that’s cherry-picked. The BLS data shows that year over year, non-farm employment increased every month. Small changes in the number of jobs month by month is not nearly as significant as the year-to-year numbers.

“You have half a million people sleeping out on the street today.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)

The way Sanders frames this is exaggerated. His number came from a single-night survey done by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to measure the number of homeless people. For a single night in January 2018, the estimate was that 553,000 people are homeless.

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But the report also says that two-thirds — nearly 360,000 — were in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs; the other 195,000 were “unsheltered” — i.e., on the street, as Sanders put it. The number has been trending down over the past decade; it was 650,000 in 2007.

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“We saw the horrifying sight of a woman with the lifeless body of her child in her arms asking, ‘What the hell happened to American leadership?’”

— Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg appears to be referring to a video published on Oct. 12 by the broadcast news outlet Kurdistan 24. The video depicts a woman sitting with a child in her lap. In the first frames, she is feeding the child with a bottle. Then, according to Kurdistan 24’s translation, she says: “Where can I take this daughter to? I tried to take her to a hospital, but there was none.”

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While the imagery is unquestionably upsetting, and despite some news reports to the contrary, the child in question appears to be ill, not “lifeless.”

“I get a little bit tired, I must say, of people defending a system which is dysfunctional, which is cruel. … 500,000 people going bankrupt for what reason, they came down with cancer?”

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— Sanders

Sanders claims that 500,000 people go bankrupt every year from medical debt. That’s approximately two-thirds of the 750,000 total bankruptcies per year.

The claim is based on a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in March. The researchers surveyed debtors and asked about factors that contributed to their bankruptcies. Forty-four percent said either medical bills or loss of work related to illness “very much” contributed; 22 percent said either medical bills or illness “somewhat” contributed. Combining both groups of respondents, the study estimated 530,000 bankruptcies a year.

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The study doesn’t establish that all 530,000 bankruptcies were caused by medical bills, as Sanders describes it. It is broader than that, because it measures contributions — not causes — factors in both illness and medical bills, and respondents who said either “somewhat” and “very much.”

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A different study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the same question of medical bankruptcies and found that the rate was far lower: 30,000 to 50,000 a year. However, this study was limited to non-elderly people in California who were admitted to the hospital for non-birth-related reasons, so it covers only a subset of all people facing medical debt.

The research team Sanders cited once included Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who contributed to earlier versions of the study when she was a Harvard professor. Interestingly, though, Warren doesn’t appear to make the same claim about 500,000 medical bankruptcies a year.

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We recently gave Sanders Three Pinocchios for this claim, and his campaign sharply criticized our fact check.

“A wealth tax makes a lot of sense in principle. The problem is that it’s been tried in Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, and all of those countries ended up repealing it because it had massive implementation problems and did not generate the revenue they projected.”

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— Business executive Andrew Yang

Yang is right about this. According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, “while 12 countries had net wealth taxes in 1990, there were only four OECD countries that still levied recurrent taxes on individuals’ net wealth in 2017.” (And in 2018, France also replaced its net wealth tax with one focused on real estate wealth.)

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“Decisions to repeal net wealth taxes have often been justified by efficiency and administrative concerns and by the observation that net wealth taxes have frequently failed to meet their redistributive goals,” the report added. “The revenues collected from net wealth taxes have also, with a few exceptions, been very low.”

Besides France, Denmark, Germany and Sweden are among the countries that abandoned the wealth tax, as Yang said.

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“People haven’t had a raise — 90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years.”

— Business executive Tom Steyer

This is not the case, not even when considering inflation. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analyzed a nearly 40-year period from 1979 to 2015, adjusting for inflation and changes in federal (but not state or local) taxes. The CBO found that wages grew for all income groups, from top to bottom, during the period. The rate of increase, however, was most significant for the top 1 percent, while everyone else received relatively modest increases.

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According to PolitiFact, other studies show that the top earners have absorbed a growing share of all new income in the past 40 years. But the claim that wages have not increased in 40 years is unsupported by the data.

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“There was a point where there were more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio.”

— Yang

This is accurate. Ohio had a peak of 102.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in 2010, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Ohio’s rate has since declined. In 2017, it was 63.5 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, but that was still higher than the U.S. average of 58.7.

“If you eliminated the entire Pentagon, every single thing — planes, ship, troop, the buildings, everything, satellites — it would pay for a total of four months” of Medicare-for-all.

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— Former vice president Joe Biden

How to cover the cost of Medicare-for-all has dominated the Democratic debates. At an estimated $30 trillion cost over 10 years, the plan, as outlined in a bill by Sanders that Warren supports, comes with a hefty price tag.

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To illustrate the cost, Biden said that eliminating the U.S. defense budget would pay for four months of Medicare-for-all. The Biden camp said he took the Defense Department budget request for 2020, $718 billion, to come up with that estimate. Assuming $3 trillion in Medicare-for-all costs per year, that means he's roughly on target.

However, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has a 10-year estimate for total defense spending: $7 trillion from 2019 to 2028. That’s about one-fifth of the cost of Medicare-for-all over 10 years. It suggests that — all else being equal — defunding the military would cover two years, not four months, of the cost of Medicare-for-all.

With such a sweeping and intricate plan, though, it’s difficult to devise a solid estimate, and it’s unlikely that defunding the military completely would ever come to pass.

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