Snow jobs and fantasy debt relief: Fact-checking the SOTU

After Barack Obama’s inaugural speech only mentioned the economy once and jobs just three times in a 2100-word address, the White House pronounced themselves shocked, shocked that anyone would have assumed that neither was a priority for Obama in his second term.  The White House promised that the State of the Union would focus more on jobs and growth, and at least rhetorically, they delivered.  The speech contains 32 mentions of the word “jobs,” and six mentions of “growth,” although one of those references was a claim that ObamaCare was already “helping to slow the growth of health care costs.”

Factually, though, Obama still hasn’t improved.  Instead, he continued his same cherry-picking ways of calculating job growth during his four years in office, and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler was among the first to notice it.  Obama used — as he has done for more than two years now — a baseline of February 2010 to calculate jobs growth during his administration, which ignores the first 13 months of his presidency and the first 12 months of his supposed “stimulus” bill.  That led to some dishonest claims in the SOTU:

“After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs.”

The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the economy in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and there has indeed been a gain of about 6 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 1.2 million jobs have been created—and the number of jobs in the economy is about 3.2 million lower than when the recession began in December,2007.

Even if we give him a pass on the first five months of his presidency, while the Great Recession he “inherited” rolled to its technical end, the number isn’t close to 6 million.  From June 2009 to January 2013, we added 4.598 million jobs in 43 months — an average just shy of 107,000 jobs per month (all figures from BLS Table B data).  That’s not enough to keep up with population growth (which requires 125k-150K per month), which is why our workforce participation rate sank from 65.7% in June 2009 to 63.6% in 2012, where it remains, near a 31-year low hit last August.  In the private sector, that number goes to 4.968 million, or slightly under 116,000 per month.

The next claim was an even bigger fib:

“After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”Obama again is cherry-picking a jobs number. The low point for manufacturing jobs was reached in January 2010, and so there has been a gain of 500,000 jobs since then. But BLS data show that the number of manufacturing jobs is still 600,000 fewer than when Obama took office in the depths of the recession—and 1.8 million fewer than when the recession began in December, 2007.

In this case, there has been actual growth of about 229,000 manufacturing jobs since June 2009.  But the job loss didn’t really start “more than ten years” ago; we had over 14 million manufacturing jobs as late as January 2007, when the recession first hit.  Since then, we have lost more than 2 million manufacturing jobs, and have 11.95 million in January 2013.  And we have only added 109,000 over the past year, and have actually dropped below July 2012’s 11.957 million figure.  Manufacturing employment has stagnated since then.

FactCheck gets into the act on the jobs front, as well as claims about ObamaCare slowing the growth of health-care costs:

From 2009 to 2011, the growth in national health care spending was at its lowest rate in 50-plus years, the entire time the National Health Expenditure Accounts reports have been published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Spending grew by 3.9 percent each year for 2009, 2010 and 2011. (The growth in 2008 was 4.7 percent, and 2007′s was 6.2 percent, with higher growth for years previous — see Table 3.)

But the Affordable Care Act wasn’t signed into law until 2010, after the recent slowing began. And the bulk of the law, including the individual mandate and federal subsidies to help Americans buy insurance, has yet to take effect. Experts have mainly blamed the economic slowdown for a corresponding reduction in health care spending. Economists and statisticians at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported in 2011: “Job losses caused many people to lose employer-sponsored health insurance and, in some cases, to forgo health-care services they could not afford.”

On car mileage, FactCheck tells Obama to take a remedial math course:

The president claimed that “we have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas” — which isn’t remotely close to being true right now.

In fact, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the average EPA city/highway sticker mileage of light duty vehicles sold last month was 24.5 miles per gallon. That’s quite good — a record, in fact. And it’s 17 percent better than the 21.0 mpg for vehicles sold four years earlier, in the month Obama took office. That’s an impressive gain, but it’s a far cry from having “doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas.”

Obama was referring to his administration’s actions for raising future federal fuel efficiency standards, which call for cars and light trucks to achieve 54.5 mpg by the model year 2025. But it remains to be seen whether automakers can produce — and consumers will buy — vehicles that achieve such a doubling of average mileage a dozen years from now.

As Investors Business Daily points out, Obama didn’t improve any more on being honest about the national debt, either.  Obama barely even mentioned national debt in his speech, only touching on it once to argue that seniors shouldn’t shoulder the burden of paying it back.  The deficit got 11 mentions, five more than “growth” did.  Before the speech, the White House tried to argue that deficit control has largely already been completed, but IBD argues that’s fantasy — and that Obama’s own debt commission knew it:

In the run-up to his State of the Union speech, Obama was running around telling everyone how we’ve already “cut our deficit by more than $2.5 trillion,” and are now “more than halfway towards the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists . .. say we need to stabilize our debt.” …

When the commission filed its report in 2010, the national debt was $9 trillion, or about 63% of the nation’s GDP. The national debt today is over $12 trillion, and has already surpassed 76% of GDP.

Had the debt commission’s plan been adopted, the deficit this year would be $646 billion, and on its way down to $279 billion by 2020. And the debt would be holding steady at about 65% of GDP.

Instead, this year’s deficit will be $845 billion — even after the alleged $2.5 trillion in savings that Obama touts — and will start climbing again in three years, reaching back up to $1 trillion by 2023, according to the latest forecast from the Congressional Budget Office.

The national debt, meanwhile, never drops below 73% of GDP, according to the CBO, and starts climbing after 2018, reaching 77% of GDP by 2023.

Lost in the SOTU attention was a CBO report warning that entitlement spending would make this situation significantly worse, and earlier than people think:

Meanwhile, on the same day Obama delivered his State of the Union speech, the head of the Congressional Budget Office warned Congress that the country will continue its charge toward the fiscal cliff unless “significant changes” are made to entitlements.

But rather than push for anything like that, Obama wants to call it “Mission Accomplished” after a couple rounds of relatively tiny and mostly phantom spending cuts and no meaningful entitlement reforms.

Obama wants to argue that more stimulus will drive the growth needed to cover those costs.  However, the stimulus from February 2009 utterly failed to generate anywhere near the kind of growth that goes into Obama’s budget assumptions:

In case anyone has forgotten, we’ve just been subject to the longest sustained experiment in Keynesian economics in the nation’s history, with spending and deficits at historic highs for four straight years.

Obama four years ago predicted that his economic policies would produce 4.6% GDP growth by 2012 and an unemployment rate of just 6%.

Actual results: GDP climbed just 2.2% last year and the unemployment rate has never dropped below 7.8% since Obama took office.

Obama offered a host of new and expanded government programs last night, but we can’t afford the ones we already have.  Pretending that we can is just as wrong as the rest of Obama’s fact-challenged speech.