Following the release of June employment data on Thursday morning, President Trump quickly called a news briefing to offer a few tweet-sized assessments of how the economy was doing. Well, in short — as evidenced by various employment gains seen among various occupational and demographic groups. No mention was made of the fact that the assessment used to estimate employment preceded the recent resurgence of the coronavirus.
So we had Trump standing before the television cameras hyping a number of new employment records, praising “historic numbers in a time that a lot of people would have wilted,” as he put it.
As when he celebrated the month-over-month gain in employment:
“It was just put out that the United States economy added almost 5 million jobs in the month of June, shattering all expectations. … This is the largest monthly jobs gain in the history of our country.”
This is true. But it’s also a bit like a restaurant boasting about seeing an increase in customers after being cited by the health department for rampant code violations. Yes, the 4.8 million jobs added is more than in any prior month on record, stretching back to 1939. But that followed the record drop of 20.8 million jobs in April — a record of its own — which followed a drop of 1.4 million jobs in March, the third-highest figure on record.
While adding jobs is obviously good, it's important to note that employment in the United States is still down significantly. Since February, when employment was at its peak, 14.6 million fewer Americans are working. Since Trump took office, 7.8 million fewer people are working.
This wasn't the only record Trump touted.
The May jobs numbers, he said, were “revised upward to 2.7 million jobs for a combined total of 7.5 million jobs created in the last two months. And that’s a record by many millions of jobs.”
Again, it is. The next highest two-month increase in employment was 1.7 million in early 1946. That made up about 1.2 percent of the country's population. The recent two-month gain is about 2.3 percent of the total population.
But, again, this follows two months in which job losses were about as bad as they’ve ever been. In March and April, 22.1 million jobs were lost, the worst two-month decrease on record.
The same dynamic applies to his celebration of industry-specific numbers.
“In June, we added 2.1 million leisure and hospitality jobs, 740,000 retail jobs, 568,000 education and health-care jobs, 357,000 service jobs. These are all historic numbers. And 356,000 manufacturing jobs.”
It’s important to note, first, that those leisure and retail jobs are at risk as coronavirus cases increase and restaurants and stores have to close down again (as is already happening in Florida and other states).
But, second, these are also small recoveries from big declines. Here’s how the one-month change in each compares to February and to when Trump took office.
|Sector||Monthly change||Change since February||Change since January 2017|
|Leisure||+2.1 million||-4.8 million||-3.8 million|
|Retail||+740,000||-1.3 million||-1.5 million|
It bears repeating: It is good that these numbers are increasing. But celebrating the record growth in each sector without noting how much damage has been done fails to convey the full picture.
Trump then turned his attention to record changes in unemployment among various demographic groups.
“African American workers — really happily for me — made historic gains with 440,000 jobs added last month alone. And that’s a record. … If you add the two months together, it’s 700,000 jobs for African American workers added in the last two months.”
That 440,000 jobs actually isn’t a record. The record was set in February 2018, when the increase was 450,000. That two-month increase — actually 687,000 — is a record.
Speaking of records, I’ll risk sounding like a broken one: That increase followed a plunge of 3.5 million jobs in March and April. Black employment is now 2.8 million lower than in February and 1.5 million lower than when Trump took office.
“Hispanic employment is up by 1.5 million jobs, a record by a lot.”
Technically speaking, this is not actually a record at all. In February 2000, Hispanic employment increased by slightly more than 1.5 million, compared to slightly less than 1.5 million last month. That increase appears to be a blip, however. The next-highest single month gain came in January 1990, when 1.1 million jobs were added. It’s also worth noting that data for Hispanic employment only goes back to 1973. (Data for black employment goes back to 1972.)
Since February, the number of Hispanic Americans working has fallen by 3.8 million. Since Trump took office, the number is down 750,000.
“Three million more women were employed in the month of June. A record. Never had a number like that.”
Since February, 8.3 million fewer women are working. Since Trump took office, 4.6 million fewer are.
“With unemployment: Those without a high school diploma dropped a full 3.3 percentage points. That’s the largest drop in recorded history.”
The next biggest decline was in March 1999, when the number fell by 1.4 percent. But in this case, the bigger picture is even more dramatic: The unemployment rate for those without high school diplomas rose by more than 14 percentage points in April. Since February, it’s up 10.9 points; since Trump took office, 9.2 points.
For the third time: It’s good these numbers are rising. It’s a necessary reversal and one we can hope will continue. But Trump’s highlighting these records as a way of touting his economic bona fides — the jobs numbers were “spectacular news” and there had not been “anything like this” before, he said — should be considered in the broader context.
“These are the numbers. These are not numbers made up by me. These are numbers,” Trump said at one point. And that’s true. But he is the one who has chosen to characterize them as sensational if not unqualified good news.