Trump attacks unemployment rate as ‘phony,’ ‘fake,’ and ‘crooked’

Donald Trump attacked good economic news by telling voters not to trust the shrinking unemployment rate. Seven years later, he’s doing it again.

During Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the Republican faced a dilemma. On the one hand, the economy was relatively healthy at the time, and the unemployment rate was steadily improving in the runup to Election Day. On the other hand, Trump wanted voters to believe the United States was in the midst of an economic disaster, which only he could fix.The GOP nominee settled on a specific rhetorical strategy to resolve the tension: Trump would simply peddle nonsense and tell the public to believe him, instead of reality. As we discussed at the time, at different points during the campaign, the Republican publicly argued, for example, that the unemployment rate was 20% — or possibly 42% — even as reality pointed to a rate below 5%.After the election, at a pre-inaugural press conference, Trump declared there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get,” which was ridiculous, even for him. Around the same time, the then-president-elect declared that the unemployment rate was “totally fiction.”Soon after, as Trump settled into the White House, and the economic conditions he inherited continued to improve, the then-president decided he believed economic data after all.That was nearly seven years ago. Now, wouldn’t you know it, the Republican has re-embraced the same outlandish rhetorical tactics he used during his successful candidacy in 2016. At a campaign event in South Dakota on Friday night, for example, Trump told attendees, in reference to economic data on employment:“Now you’re given phony numbers — because far fewer people are looking for jobs. … They throw around 3.5%, 3.6%, 3.7%, but it’s a different group of people. … So it’s a fake number.”He went on to describe the unemployment rate as “crooked,” before declaring, “During Biden’s first 30 months in office, just 2.1 million new jobs have been created.” As part of the harangue, the former president concluded, “The fact is, we’re probably heading into a Great Depression.”So, a few things.First, the unemployment rate is not “phony,” “fake,” or “crooked.” Yes, it fluctuates based on people looking for work and exiting the workforce, but that was true during Trump’s term, too, and it didn’t stop him from touting the data when he saw encouraging jobs reports.Second, during the first 30 months of Joe Biden’s presidency, the U.S. economy created 13.6 million jobs, not 2.1 million. (If we start the count in February 2021, instead of January 2021, economy created 13.5 million jobs over Biden’s first 30 months.) Trump and some of his allies apparently want the public to believe that the rapid economic recovery that began after Trump left office led to job growth that doesn’t really count, but that’s not a serious argument.Third, there is literally zero evidence of the domestic economy “heading into a Great Depression.”But as relevant as these details are, let’s also not forget that the incumbent Democratic president has recently taken some rhetorical shots at his predecessor’s weak record on job creation. On Friday night, Trump was apparently eager to return fire.The problem, of course, was that the Republican, unable to rely on facts, was firing imaginary bullets.

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