A fact check of Trump’s economic speech
Washington — In his centerpiece speech on the economy, Donald Trump wrongly accused Hillary Clinton of wanting to increase middle-class taxes and blamed America’s crumbling roads and bridges in part on the money spent on refugees, a minuscule expense in comparison with infrastructure.
A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP: “She said she wanted to raise taxes on the middle class.”
THE FACTS: If Clinton said that — and it’s highly debatable — it’s clear she didn’t mean to. Her economic agenda calls for middle-class tax cuts (which are not specified) and she has repeatedly said she would not raise taxes on middle incomes. In a speech in Omaha, Nebraska, last week, she talked about “fairer rules for the middle class” and delivered a line that was difficult to understand, either “we are going to raise taxes on the middle class” or “we aren’t.”
If she said the former, it was obviously a flub. Her policy on middle-class taxes has been consistent — no increases.
TRUMP: “You cannot even start a small business under the tremendous regulatory burden we have today.”
THE FACTS: Trump is exaggerating. There are clear signs that new business formation has slowed, but it hasn’t ground to the halt that he suggests.
Between 2011 and 2013, the most recent years available, the census bureau found that the number of companies that employ fewer than four people has increased by 43,232 to 3.58 million.
Nor should anyone assume that regulation alone explains the decline in small business starts. Most entrepreneurs relied on personal savings, home equity and credit cards to finance new companies before the housing bust hurt their ability to access credit, according to a speech by Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Other studies say student loans are inhibiting entrepreneurship among younger Americans.
TRUMP: The country’s infrastructure has suffered “yet we found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense.”
THE FACT: You have to go a long way back to get to “millions” of refugees.
Over the last eight years, the period Trump addresses when pointing to failures of President Barack Obama, the U.S. resettled 530,830 refugees. That includes many from the final year of the Bush administration. So far in the budget year that ends Sept. 30, the U.S. has resettled 59,099 refugees. Last year, 69,933. Over the last 15 years: about 850,000.
The State Department puts the cost of the resettlement program to taxpayers at less than $1.2 billion a year. That’s roughly 0.03 percent of the federal budget, a rounding error according to most experts. That sum would hardly make up for the infrastructure shortfall. The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report that the government needs to spend $1.4 trillion through 2025 to close the infrastructure funding gap.
TRUMP: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before NAFTA went into effect, there were 285,000 auto workers in Michigan. Today, that number is only 160,000.”
THE FACTS: Trump is playing fast and loose with the stats. The numbers cited in his speech don’t even line up with the footnotes provided by his campaign.
Michigan actually added jobs after the North American Free Trade Agreement began in 1994, when auto plants employed roughly 200,000 workers. Over the next six years, their ranks increased to 231,000. The decline only occurred after the tech bubble burst and U.S. automakers lost market share among U.S. consumers, a decline that prompted a government bailout that caused Michigan auto jobs to start rising again in late 2009.
Many U.S. auto jobs also relocated to other states. Foreign automakers such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan built plants in other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.
An analysis by the liberal Economic Policy Institute shows that auto job growth in Mexico began to sharply accelerate in 2004. One reason why auto production has increased so much in Mexico is its extensive network of international trade agreements in addition to NAFTA, with German luxury carmaker BMW calling the agreements in 2014 a decisive factor for building its first auto plants in Mexico.
TRUMP on the unemployment rate: “This 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern American politics.”
THE FACTS: The unemployment rate has its shortcomings but it is not a “hoax.”
The unemployment rate has become controversial since the recession ended because many people have stopped looking for work, and the government doesn’t count those out of work unless they are actively searching for jobs. If an unemployed person gives up on a job hunt, that reduces the unemployment rate without anyone being hired, so it has overstated the improvement in the job market.
Still, a broader measure of unemployment that includes people who have recently stopped looking for jobs has also fallen — from a peak of 17.4 percent in 2010 to 9.7 percent now.
The proportion of Americans working or looking for work is now 62.8 percent, near the lowest level since the 1970s. That’s down from 66 percent before the recession. At least half that decline in the workforce stems from greater retirements, as baby boomers age.
Many of the figures Trump cited in his speech are compiled by the same monthly survey that produces the unemployment figure he considers a hoax.