Trump’s Jobs Claims in His State of the Union Speech Simply Don’t Add Up

Bryce Covert January 31, 2018

Despite Trump's claims of massive gains in employment, 2017 actually represented the lowest level of job growth in seven years. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In his first offi­cial State of the Union address to Con­gress on Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Trump boast­ed about a new tide of opti­mism” that was already sweep­ing across our land” when he was elect­ed. One of the suc­cess­es that he was eager to claim is adding more jobs to the economy.

Since the elec­tion we have cre­at­ed 2.4 mil­lion new jobs, includ­ing 200,000 new jobs in man­u­fac­tur­ing alone,” he bragged. Tremen­dous numbers.”

Lat­er on, he claimed cred­it for com­pa­nies build­ing and expand­ing plants” in this coun­try, some­thing we haven’t seen for decades.”

This is all news Amer­i­cans are unac­cus­tomed to hear­ing,” he added. For many years, com­pa­nies and jobs were only leav­ing us. But now they are roar­ing back, they’re com­ing back, they want to be where the action is, they want to be in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.” Appar­ent­ly, his very pres­ence in the Oval Office is to thank.

But while Trump has over­seen steady job growth, it has by no means been record-break­ing. It’s hard to see how Trump could take cred­it for jobs added to the econ­o­my before he laid foot in the White House, so it’s more accu­rate to say that the econ­o­my added 2.1 mil­lion jobs over the course of 2017, accord­ing to data from the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics. Even so, in Pres­i­dent Obama’s last year in office the econ­o­my saw the cre­ation of 2.2 mil­lion jobs. In fact, 2017 rep­re­sent­ed the low­est lev­el of job growth in sev­en years.

It’s also not clear that Trump could be cred­it­ed with help­ing cre­ate many of these new jobs any­way. So far, his major pol­i­cy achieve­ment has been sign­ing the Repub­li­can tax bill into law at the end of Decem­ber 2017, what he dubi­ous­ly called dur­ing his speech the biggest tax cuts and reforms in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.” While Repub­li­cans argue that the mon­ey saved by large cor­po­ra­tions will be used to make invest­ments in their work­forces through cre­at­ing jobs and rais­ing pay, it’s far too ear­ly to find out whether that will actu­al­ly hap­pen. Instead, many econ­o­mists expect cor­po­rate exec­u­tives to use the sav­ings to reward them­selves and their share­hold­ers. A num­ber of com­pa­nies have already said as much about their plans.

Trump has repeat­ed­ly boast­ed of cre­at­ing or sav­ing mil­lions of jobs sin­gle-hand­ed­ly by cajol­ing cor­po­rate exec­u­tives or strik­ing deals with them. In late 2016, before he took office, Trump flew to Indi­anapo­lis, Ind. to vis­it a Car­ri­er plant that was plan­ning to move jobs to Mex­i­co. Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Indi­ana, promised the com­pa­ny mil­lions in state tax breaks along with few­er fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions and tax­es. In cel­e­brat­ing the deal,” Trump and Pence bragged that they had saved Amer­i­can jobs at the fac­to­ry from being moved overseas.

But hun­dreds of work­ers at that plant did, in fact, lose their jobs. Only 730 Car­ri­er jobs were pre­served in the plant where Trump did his pho­to op, while about 1,250 were lost. The last employ­ees to be hit by the lay­offs clocked in for their final shifts just two-and-a-half weeks ago.

We were hop­ing some­one would inter­vene, but appar­ent­ly it nev­er hap­pened,” Duane Oreskovic, one of the last Car­ri­er employ­ees to lose his job, pre­vi­ous­ly told In These Times. Frank Sta­ples, anoth­er Car­ri­er work­er who recent­ly lost his job, put it this way: I would say to Trump, You made a deci­sion and ran on a cam­paign promise that you were going to help the Amer­i­can work­er. Stand up and do it.’ ”

Trump has made repeat­ed promis­es about job cre­ation, but most of those pledges have sim­i­lar­ly van­ished into thin air over his first year in office. ProP­ub­li­ca recent­ly found that while Trump has claimed to have saved or cre­at­ed near­ly 2.4 mil­lion posi­tions, only 206,000 — or less than 9 per­cent of what he’s tried to take cred­it for — have actu­al­ly mate­ri­al­ized. Just 136,000 of those were brand new jobs, not just warmed over press releas­es about jobs that had been pre­vi­ous­ly planned. In total, ProP­ub­li­ca found that Trump could only be direct­ly cred­it­ed with cre­at­ing 63,000.

Pres­i­dents don’t have much pow­er, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, to sig­nif­i­cant­ly change the course of the econ­o­my them­selves. The fac­tors that do mat­ter are large­ly out­side of their hands, such as pro­duc­tiv­i­ty growth or oil spikes. But Trump still wants per­son­al cred­it for his­to­ry shat­ter­ing job cre­ation. The facts sim­ply don’t back him up.

Bryce Covert, a con­tribut­ing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has writ­ten for The New Repub­lic, The Nation, the Wash­ing­ton Post, the New York Dai­ly News, New York Mag­a­zine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Excep­tion­al Mer­it in Media Award from the Nation­al Women’s Polit­i­cal Caucus.
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