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Biden’s pitch that the economy ‘will create 19 million jobs’ if infrastructure is passed

(Erin Scott/Reuters)
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“Independent analysis shows that if we pass this plan, the economy will create 19 million jobs — good jobs, blue-collar jobs, jobs that pay well.”

— President Biden, remarks on the March jobs report, April 2

For weeks before the passage of his coronavirus economic package, Biden asserted that it would help create 7 million jobs. Now that he has introduced his infrastructure plan, the president has a shiny new number: 19 million jobs.

Regular readers know that we often warn that any such predictions must be taken with a grain of salt. In this case, the numbers are from the same source — Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm. But they involve different time periods — one year in the case of the 7 million, 10 years in the case of the 19 million.

Moreover, these numbers include many jobs that would be created if government policymakers did absolutely nothing.

Confused? Well, so are administration officials at times.

The Facts

The latest Moody’s report offers three scenarios for job growth: with no government intervention, with just the American Rescue Plan, and with both the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan, the moniker for the infrastructure proposal. The report is generally laudatory about Biden’s infrastructure proposals, though it notes that growth will slow slightly in early 2022, trimming some jobs, as the impact of Biden’s proposed tax increases are felt before infrastructure spending really gets started later that year.

Moody’s economist Mark Zandi, the chief author of the report, told the Fact Checker that the starting point for measuring the plans’ impact should be the fourth quarter of 2020, when there were 142.6 million workers with non-farm jobs.

“With the AJP, the economy will create 18.96 million jobs between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2030,” Zandi said. “Without the AJP, the economy will create 16.3 million jobs [in that period]. If the ARP had not been passed and without the AJP, the economy would have created 15.65 million jobs.”

In other words, the baseline was 15.65 million jobs over 10 years, assuming no new policies were implemented. The American Rescue Plan’s impact is mostly at the beginning, bringing the country quickly back to full employment, so over 10 years its impact fades.

Zandi provided an Excel spreadsheet that showed the infrastructure plan would especially spur job growth in 2024 and 2025, giving the economy a big boost — an extra 1.5 million jobs in 2024 and an extra million jobs in 2025 — in those years, above and beyond the rescue plan.

All told, as a result of the infrastructure plan, almost 2.7 million additional jobs would be created over 10 years.

That sounds a lot smaller than 19 million, which is why administration officials presumably prefer to mention the larger number. But then they have sometimes bungled the talking points to make it seem as if all 19 million jobs would stem from the infrastructure plan.

“Moody’s suggests it would create 19 million jobs,” Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The American Jobs Plan is about a generational investment. It’s going to create 19 million jobs,” declared Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Both the White House and the Transportation Department acknowledged to CNN that the men had misspoken and instead had intended to say the proposal would “help” create 19 million jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum was Council of Economic Advisers member Jared Bernstein. In an interview on CBS Radio, Bernstein cited the Moody’s estimate of 19 million jobs — specifying these were non-farm jobs — and then helped spell out the components: “Some of that is the Rescue Plan, some of that’s the Jobs Plan, some of that is underlying growth.”

Actually, most of it is natural growth, but Bernstein at least made it very clear to listeners that the infrastructure was just one of three elements in the calculation.

In an interview on CNN’s “Situation Room” on Monday, Buttigieg offered a mea culpa: “I should be precise about this. Moody’s modeled a scenario where the American Jobs Plan is passed. In that scenario they see the American economy creating 19 million jobs. That’s 2.7 [million] more than if this bill doesn’t pass.”

This brings us back to Biden: “Independent analysis shows that if we pass this plan, the economy will create 19 million jobs — good jobs, blue-collar jobs, jobs that pay well.”

Biden’s line is similar to other language used by administration officials in structured settings. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday told reporters: “A report from Moody’s Analytics that came out yesterday afternoon projects that the economy will create 19 million jobs over the next decade if Congress passes the American Jobs Plan.” Similar language can be found in White House information sheets.

These lines are not as bad as the pitches made by Deese and Buttigieg, but they also do not include the word “help,” as in “will help create.” That’s a word that Biden used on occasion when discussing the American Rescue Plan, but sometimes he also used the “if we pass our plan … the economy will create” framing.

That phrasing can leave the wrong impression. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” moderator Margaret Brennan asked Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers: “President Biden is throwing around this projection that the entire bill will create about 19 million jobs. What does that number come from?”

Rouse replied that it came from Moody’s Analytics, but she did not correct Brennan’s misunderstanding. So viewers certainly could think that Moody’s said the infrastructure plan would create 19 million jobs.

“Clearly, the framing is intended to mislead the viewer into believing that enacting the infrastructure bill will create 19 million jobs,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who worked for Republicans on Capitol Hill. “The correct framing would be that Moody’s estimates that passing this infrastructure bill will directly add 2.6 million jobs over the long run.”

He added: “In general, I am baffled here because the Biden administration has staffed itself with very smart, credible economists, and most White Houses quickly put in place a process to ensure that all economic data passes the ‘bulletproof’ test of surviving any fact-check.”

The Pinocchio Test

This is an example of the White House wanting to have its cake and eat it too.

Note how Biden carefully does not say the infrastructure plan would create 19 million jobs; instead, he says the economy would create that many jobs if the plan was passed.

Biden’s language is just on the edge of being technically correct, but even experienced communicators such as Deese and Buttigieg messed it up during interviews. That’s because — as Brennan’s question demonstrated — the impression left by the White House’s finely tuned language is that the infrastructure bill would create 19 million jobs all by itself.

In fact, the bill is estimated to create about 2.7 million additional jobs over 10 years. That’s a huge gap between the two numbers — six times smaller. While Biden at times used somewhat similar framing regarding the earlier Moody’s report on the American Rescue Plan, the gap in that case was not nearly as large.

We appreciate that the White House has corrected the record when officials have strayed from the talking point. But the president would be better off following the example set by Bernstein, clearly delineating that this figure reflects three components — natural growth, the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure proposal. Even better, he could state simply what Buttigieg eventually did: that Moody’s estimates that nearly 2.7 million jobs would be created by the infrastructure plan.

Two Pinocchios

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