By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER and JOSH BOAK
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, would not like the way Trump, the president, is crowing about today’s unemployment rate. He’d call the whole thing a “hoax.”
Trump raised a red flag about declining jobless numbers during his campaign, so as to deny President Barack Obama any credit. Trump noted that the jobless rate masks the true employment picture by leaving out the millions who have given up looking for work.
But Trump is seeing red no more. The same stats he assailed in 2015 and 2016 now are his proof of “fantastic,” “terrific” economic progress, for which he wants the credit.
That disconnect is part of why Trump’s statements about the economy this past week, some accurate on their face, fall short of the whole truth.
On top of that, Trump made the farfetched claim that the economy is better than it has ever been. And in a week consumed with the dustup over the government shutdown, Trump’s doctor stepped forward with a testament to the president’s health that other physicians found to be too rosy.
A look at some recent remarks away from the din of the budget battle:
TRUMP: “Black unemployment is the best it’s ever been in recorded history.
It’s been fantastic. And it’s the best number we’ve had with respect to black unemployment. We’ve never seen anything even close.” – remarks from Oval Office on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Yes, the black unemployment rate of 6.8 percent is the lowest on record.
No, it’s not far and away superior to any time in the past. In 2000, it was within one point of today’s record for six months, and as low seven percent.
As Trump was quick to note as a candidate, the unemployment rate only measures people without jobs who are searching for work. Like other demographic groups, fewer AfricanAmericans are working or looking for work than in the past. Just 62.1 percent of blacks are employed or seeking a job, down from a peak of 66.4 percent in 1999.
The black unemployment rate would be much higher if the rate of black labor force participation was near its levels before the Great Recession.
During the campaign, Trump claimed that real unemployment then was a soaring 42 percent. It’s not quite clear, but he could have been referring to the percentage of the U.S. population without jobs – a figure that includes retirees, stay-at-home parents and students. At the time, he considered the official jobless rate a “phony set of numbers … one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”
TRUMP: “We’re making incredible progress. The women’s unemployment rate hit the lowest level that it’s been in 17 years. Well, that’s something. And women in the workforce reached a record high. … That’s really terrific, and especially since it’s on my watch.” – at women’s event Tuesday
THE FACTS: Again – yes, but. The four percent jobless rate for women is at a 17-year low, just as it is for the overall population. But the labor force participation rate by women is lower today than in 2000. The proportion of women in the workforce is not at a record high.
TRUMP: “Our country is doing very well. Economically, we’ve never had anything like it.” from Oval Office on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Never say never. The U.S. economy had better employment stats during the 2000 tech boom, just for one example. It’s enjoyed stock market surges before. It’s had blazing, double-digit annual growth, a far cry from the 3.2 percent achieved during the second and third quarters of 2017. That was the best six-month pace since 2014 – hardly the best ever.
The economy added about 170,000 new jobs a month during Trump’s first year. That was slightly below the average of 185,000 in Obama’s last year.
DR. RONNY JACKSON, White House physician, on his examination of Trump: “I think he’ll remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he’s elected. … His cardiac health is excellent.” – White House briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Physicians not connected with the White House have widely questioned that prediction of seven more years of healthy living and that conclusion about his heart. Cardiac functioning was indeed normal in the tests, according to the readings that were released. But Trump is borderline obese and largely sedentary, with a “bad” cholesterol reading above the norm despite taking medication for it. He’ll be 72 in June. It’s doubtful that most men that age with similar histories and findings would get such a glowing report from their doctors.