Fact check: Debunking eight Trump false claims about the Biden-era economy

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In a campaign speech at a rally in South Dakota on Friday, former President Donald Trump delivered lengthy and detailed criticism of the US economy under President Joe Biden – accusing Biden of deceiving the public on the subject of “Bidenomics.”

But many of the economic claims Trump himself made in the speech were not true. We counted eight false claims on the subject – ranging from relatively small exaggerations to sophisticated but inaccurate statistical spin to complete fabrications. Twice, Trump made two different false claims in rapid succession while talking about a single subject.

Here’s a fact check of the eight false claims.

Trump rejected the legitimacy of the unemployment rate under Biden – as he regularly did before he was elected in 2016 but stopped doing upon entering the White House.

Trump claimed on Friday that, while he was president, “Everybody had jobs, everybody was happy. Now you’re given phony numbers, because far fewer people are looking for jobs. So they throw around – although it just went up – but they throw around ‘3.5, 3.6, 3.7%’ – but it’s a different group of people. They’re looking for jobs, but many of ‘em aren’t looking for jobs, so it’s a fake number.”

Facts First: Trump made two false claims here. First, his assertion that “everybody had jobs” when he was president is, clearly, inaccurate hyperbole; the unemployment rate was 6.3% when he left office in January 2021 and 3.5% even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020. And it’s entirely baseless to say that the current unemployment rate, 3.8% for August, is “fake.” While the unemployment rate always has limitations in explaining the state of the labor market – which is why the federal government collects and releases numerous other employment-related figures – the unemployment rate is no less legitimate now than it was when Trump was in office and repeatedly touting the unemployment rate with no caveats.

Trump’s comments about fewer people looking for work these days were muddled, but we’ll try to address them. It is true that, this August, the percentage of the population that was participating in the labor force (working or looking for a job), 62.8%, was slightly lower than the labor force participation rate throughout 2019 and in the pre-pandemic months of early 2020. It’s the same story for the August percentage of the population that was employed, 60.4%.

But both of these two rates were higher than the rates for not only most of pandemic-era 2020 but also various previous Trump-era months in 2017 and 2018. Trump did not declare the unemployment rate “fake” in any of those months, so there’s no basis for doing so today.

In March 2017, less than two months into Trump’s presidency, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump no longer considered federal jobs data phony at that point. Spicer said, “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’”

Trump claimed, “Monthly job reports have been revised downward every single month of 2023. Every single month they’ve gone down.”

Facts First: Though five of this year’s monthly jobs reports have been revised downward, Trump was wrong in claiming that there has been a downward revision “every single month of 2023.” There were downward revisions for January, February, May, June and July, but there were upward revisions for March and April. (The August estimate has not yet been revised either way.)

It is standard for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to revise the initial estimates from its monthly jobs reports, which the bureau always emphasizes are preliminary and imprecise; additional information on how businesses have hired and fired becomes available over time. There were various downward revisions (as well as upward revisions) during the Trump presidency, too.

It’s worth noting the 2023 months whose initial estimates were revised downward all still posted substantial job gains even after the revisions.

Trump claimed, “We are a nation that has the highest inflation in 50 years.”

Facts First: This claim is wrong in two ways. First, even when the inflation rate hit its Biden-era peak in June 2022, that 9.1% rate was the highest since 1981 – between 40 and 41 years prior, not “50 years” or “over 50 years” as Trump has claimed. (He has a longstanding habit of exaggerating even figures that would be helpful for him if he cited them correctly.) Second, Trump’s present-tense “has” is no longer accurate. Inflation has declined sharply since the June 2022 peak, and the most recent available rate at the time he spoke, for July 2023, was 3.2% – a rate that, the Biden presidency aside, was exceeded as recently as 2011, far less than 50 years ago. (The August 2023 rate, released after Trump spoke, was 3.7%, which was also exceeded as recently as 2011.)

It is debatable how much Biden was responsible for June’s four-decade high, just as it is debatable how much he was responsible for the subsequent decline. The inflation of the Biden era has been an international phenomenon, affected by factors ranging from pandemic-related supply chain issues to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Trump claimed, “The dollar has lost more than 20% of its value in just three years’ time; it’s not even possible. It never happened before. These are records we’re talking about, all records.”

Facts First: Trump made two false claims here, too.

Trump did not specify if he was talking about the “value” of the dollar in terms of its domestic purchasing power or its strength against other currencies, and his campaign did not reply to a request for comment. In neither case, though, has the dollar “lost more than 20% of its value” over the last three years or since Biden took office 31-plus months ago. Trump’s claim is “somewhat wrong” at best, if it’s about domestic purchasing power, and “wildly inaccurate” at worst, if it’s about the currency, said Michael Klein, executive editor of the website EconoFact and professor of international economic affairs at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

If Trump was referring to domestic purchasing power, he was exaggerating its decline. The purchasing power of a consumer dollar declined by about 15% between August 2020 and August 2023, according to federal data for urban consumers. It’s a very slightly larger 15% decline if you start the clock in Biden’s first partial month in office, January 2021.

Fifteen percent is substantial, but it’s not “more than 20%” as Trump claimed. Second, it’s also not true that such a decline has “never happened before” and is a “record.” There have been larger declines over three-year periods at various previous points in US history, including in the early- and mid- 1970s.

And Trump left open the possibility to listeners that he was referring to a sharp decline in the value of the US dollar against other currencies. In that case, Trump’s claims would be “so wrong I don’t even know where to start,” Klein said in an email. Compared to a “basket” of other currencies, the dollar has actually strengthened significantly over the last three years and since Biden entered the White House.

One of the best-known measures of the strength of the dollar is the US Dollar Index, which compares the dollar to a “basket” of six other currencies. By that measure, the dollar had strengthened about 12% in the three years leading up to Trump’s speech and about 16% since Biden took office. A different index from the Federal Reserve, which incorporates a larger number of currencies and takes into account the extent of US trade with different countries, shows an increase of about 5% in the dollar’s value over the three years prior to the Friday rally and an increase about 10% since Biden took office.

Even if the dollar had dropped more than 20% against other currencies over three years, that wouldn’t be a “record” and it wouldn’t be true that this “never happened before.” Going by the US Dollar Index, the dollar lost about half its value between 1985 and 1988.

Real incomes under Trump and Biden

Trump claimed, “Under Biden, real incomes have gone down by $7,400 per family, think of that. Under President Trump, yearly income went up by more than $6,000. That’s a record. More than $6,000. Think of that.”

Facts First: Both parts of Trump’s claim are false. It’s not true that yearly income went up “more than $6,000” under Trump, as PolitiFact pointed out in an August fact check; Trump was at least very slightly inflating the increase in family income during his presidency – more than slightly if you go by the federal figures that were available at the time he spoke. And Trump was simultaneously exaggerating the decline under Biden.

Trump’s campaign has previously said that, when he claims that real incomes went up by “more than $6,000” during his tenure, he is referring to official federal data on real (inflation-adjusted) median household income. When he made the claim last month, his campaign justified it by noting that the federal data showed that real median household income had increased by $6,151 between 2016 and 2019, when it hit $72,808.

But a claim about the 2016-to-2019 period doesn’t actually prove his claim about what happened “under President Trump,” since 2019 was not the last year of his term; without explaining that he is doing so, he keeps stopping the “under President Trump” calculation clock before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. If you include pandemic-era 2020, when real median household income fell to $71,186 under the federal figures that were available at the time of the Friday rally, real median household income actually rose by $4,529 – a substantial gain, but not “more than $6,000.”

This week, after the rally, the federal government made a technical change to the way it determines real median household income, and it published revised annual figures for the Trump and Biden eras as well as previous years. The new figures show that real median household income rose $5,820 under Trump. That’s much closer to $6,000, but still not “more than” $6,000 as Trump said in the Friday speech, so his claim remains off.

Given how close the revised Trump-era gain is to $6,000, we might have skipped the fact check if Trump had only made his claim at the Friday rally about the gain during his own presidency. But his rally claim about the Biden-era losses is even more flawed.

Biden-era data for real median household income is only available through 2022; the 2022 figure, $74,580, was down $2,080 from 2020. So where did Trump get the assertion that real incomes have “gone down by $7,400” under Biden? As PolitiFact noted, Trump’s campaign has said he is referring to a January estimate from a right-wing think tank, the Heritage Foundation.

But that Heritage estimate is far out of date, especially because the inflation rate has declined sharply since then. And it is not a fair comparison to the federal figures Trump was citing for his own era, which are calculated in a much different way.

Job growth under Biden and Trump

Trump claimed, “During Biden’s first 30 months in office, just 2.1 million new jobs have been created nationwide.” After a digression into other criticism of Biden, he continued, “By contrast, during the first 30 months of President Trump, we created 4.9 million new jobs, shattering all predictions and projections.”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that just 2.1 million new jobs were created in Biden’s first 30 months in office is false. Without mentioning that he was doing so, Trump was using a self-serving definition of “new jobs” that sharply reduced Biden’s total – and the “2.1 million” figure is much too low even going by Trump’s own definition.

Through July, the 30th full month of Biden’s presidency, the US economy had added more than 13.4 million total nonfarm jobs under Biden, going from just under 143 million to more than 156 million. So where did Trump get the claim that just 2.1 million new jobs were created during that period? PolitiFact reported in August that Trump’s campaign explained that they were not crediting Biden for the first roughly 11 million jobs added during the Biden presidency. The campaign claimed that those jobs were not newly created, merely returned from the pandemic, and only brought the country back to pre-pandemic Trump levels.

But even if you accept the argument that Biden deserves zero credit for millions of jobs being added under his watch – and a variety of economists who spoke to PolitiFact rejected the argument – Trump subtracted far too many jobs from Biden’s column.

When Biden took office in January 2021, the economy was about 9.4 million jobs below the pre-pandemic peak set in February 2020. By adding more than 13.4 million jobs over Biden’s first 30 full months, therefore, the country went roughly 4 million jobs above the pre-pandemic peak. In other words, Trump’s claim that just 2.1 million new jobs were created in Biden’s first 30 months is wrong even by his own definition of “new jobs.”

And Trump was deceptive by omission in failing to explain that he was excluding most Biden-era job gains by using that unconventional definition. People can come to their own conclusions about whether the definition is fair, but when Trump doesn’t even explain that he is using it, he leaves open the impression that far more jobs were created in his own first 30 months than in Biden’s. The reality is the opposite.

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