Usually after the State of the Union, we’d feature a media fact check to see where spin crossed the line in the presidential address into “You lie!” territory. Perhaps because Barack Obama managed to “win” Politifact’s Lie of the Year in 2013, we have a few media outlets on the case today — the Associated Press, Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post, and Politico all got rapid research completed overnight. What nuggets did they find?
OBAMA: “Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”
The AP and Kessler picked up on this one, while Politico never bothers to mention anything on the core issue of Obama’s speech. Kessler throws a flag on this one:
Close readers of the president’s speeches might have noticed an interesting shift in the president’s rhetoric. Just in December the president gave a speech on economic mobility in which he three times asserted that it was “declining” in the United States. But earlier this month, renowned economists Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez and colleagues published a paper based on tens of millions of tax records showing that upward mobility had not changed significantly over time. The rate essentially is the same now as it was 20 years ago.
The AP is a little more direct:
The most recent evidence suggests that mobility hasn’t worsened. A team of economists led by Harvard’s Raj Chetty released a study last week that found the United States isn’t any less socially mobile than it was in the 1970s. Looking at children born between 1971 and 1993, the economists found that the odds of a child born in the poorest 20 percent of families making it into the top 20 percent hasn’t changed.
Next, we have the ObamaCare defense:
Obama: “More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.”
All three media outlets dinged this claim. Politico says that the President is “technically” correct, but Kessler reminds readers that Obama has lied about this before. “Obama carefully does not say these numbers are the result of the Affordable Care Act,” Kessler writes, “but he certainly leaves that impression. But the Medicaid part of this number—6.3 million from October through December — is very fuzzy and once earned a rating of Three Pinocchios.” All three note, as the AP does, that “it’s not known how many of those who signed up for private coverage were previously insured.” One insurer says that figure is 89%, which means only a small number of the uninsured have been added net to the insured rolls.
Obama: “I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour — because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.”
Politico and the AP both hit this claim. The contract requirement won’t start until next year, and it only applies to new contracts. Both also note that “his ability to act unilaterally on this point is very limited as most employees of federal contractors make well over $10 an hour.” The AP also point out that this won’t be added to renewed contracts, so the actual impact of this will approach nil.
OBAMA: “We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”
Only the AP points out that the “shovel-ready” argument still lives, in concept if not in name. The problem now isn’t so much red tape as it is funding, and Obama can’t do that on his own. Obama wants a tax hike on businesses to extend this work that even Democrats are probably wanting to avoid in an election year.
“A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”
Kessler’s the only one to notice this:
The low point for manufacturing jobs was reached in January 2010, and there has been a gain of 570,000 jobs since then. But BLS data show that the number of manufacturing jobs is still 500,000 fewer than when Obama took office in the depths of the recession — and 1.7 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007. The gain in manufacturing actually has begun to stall a bit in the past year. The only reason Obama can tout a gain in manufacturing jobs “for the first time since the 1990s” is because, before the recession, manufacturing had been on a slow decline for many years.
He’s also the only one to notice this on jobs:
“The more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.”
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 8 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.
Let me provide the final fact check on this point, from my post-speech reaction at CNN:
He started out the speech bragging about adding eight million jobs in four years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that figure is 7.5 million since December 2009, although it’s closer to 6.5 million in the Household survey. Even at the higher number, job growth works out to an average of 156,250 net jobs added each month.
Thanks to population growth, the U.S. economy needs to add about 150,000 jobs each month just to stay even in terms of workforce employment. What President Obama fails to mention is that his economic policies have dragged employment and active engagement in the workforce as a percentage of the civilian population down from 64.6% at the beginning of that four-year period to 62.8% now, a level not seen since Jimmy Carter gave his first official State of the Union speech in 1978.
Well, it is the Polar Vortex season. Who didn’t expect a snow job?
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