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Trump inflates US economic achievements in State of Union address, but there are some things he got right

Feb 06 2019 12:41
Jeanna Smialek and Katia Dmitrieva, Bloomberg

President Donald Trump inflated his economic achievements during his State of the Union address, touting numbers that don’t match up with official data and highlighting some accomplishments that left out key context.

Trump said the US has created 5.3 million jobs and 600 000 in manufacturing since the election in 2016.

While the overall job figure matches up, Labor Department figures show the correct figure for factories is 481 000, the difference between January 2019 payrolls and November 2016.

The president also said that wages “are rising at the fastest pace in decades,” according to his prepared remarks Tuesday. In fact, wages are rising at the fastest pace in just under one decade, according to the widely cited measure of average hourly earnings from the Labor Department. Another gauge, the employment cost index, rose 2.9% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, the most since 2008.

Trump does have plenty to celebrate: The American economy is growing at a healthy pace, job growth is strong and wage gains have picked up, though analysts expect things to moderate this year and next as the effects of his tax cuts fade.

Another statement, that the economy is growing “almost twice as fast today as when I took office,” is within range based on the third quarter’s annualised gross domestic product growth pace of 3.4%, compared with 1.8% in the final quarter of 2016.

One accomplishment Trump highlighted is that “more people are working now than at any time in our history – 157 million.” That’s more a function of population growth, and the number has grown under every president since the 1950s. The same goes for his line that more women are in the workforce than ever before, which earned applause in the House chamber.

A fuller picture might have left attendees less enthusiastic.

Female labor-force participation - the share of people working or looking as a share of the total population - has made a solid recovery in recent years, but it is well below levels seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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