Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump falsely claimed that the unemployment rate could be as high as 42 percent during his victory speech in New Hampshire. This talking point that the official unemployment rate is “phony” is a common refrain among right-wing media figures who have allowed Trump to push the faulty claim, despite the fact that fact-checkers have called it “ridiculous.”
In New Hampshire Victory Speech, Trump Invokes Debunked Unemployment Numbers
Trump: Unemployment Is “Probably 28, 29, ... 35” Percent; “I Even Heard Recently 42 Percent.” During his victory speech, Donald Trump doubled down on several of his extreme policy positions, including “build[ing] a wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border, “repealing and replacing Obamacare,” and “getting rid of Common Core.” Trump also repeated his baseless claim that unemployment numbers are as high as 42 percent:
Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think we'd have gatherings like this if we had -- if we had 5 percent unemployment do you really think we'd have these gatherings? [The Washington Post, 2/9/16]
Right-Wing Media Figures Have Helped Spur And Enable Trump's Unemployment Rate Lies
Rush Limbaugh: The “Actual Unemployment Rate” Is “42.9 Percent.” During the June 30, 2015, edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh ranted against the official unemployment rate provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and citing a blog post written by former Reagan Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman, claimed that “the actual unemployment rate in the United States of America is not five and a half percent ... ; it's 42.9 percent:”
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Stockman has run a bunch of numbers and has been able to put all of this in context and has concluded that the actual unemployment rate in the United States of America is not five and a half percent, and it's not twelve and a half or 13 percent; it's 42.9 percent. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 6/30/15]
Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo Pushed The Debunked Statistic While Moderating A Republican Debate. During Fox Business' November 10, 2015, Republican primary debate, moderator Maria Bartiromo pushed the debunked statistic, saying “almost 40 percent of Americans” are out of work and not looking, while asking candidate Jeb Bush about job creation:
MARIA BARTIROMO (MODERATOR): Governor Bush, almost 40 percent of Americans are without a job and are not looking. Many have given up. That's what the participation rate tells us. You've said your policies will drive the economy back to four percent growth, which we haven't seen since the year 2000. What specific regulations would you change, and how will that lead to jobs and growth? [Fox Business, Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, 11/10/15]
Fox's Bill O'Reilly Let Trump Push Baseless Claim That Official Unemployment Rate Is A “Phony Number.” During the February 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly let Trump claim that the official unemployment rate is a “phony number” and that the actual rate is “25 percent, and probably higher.” From The O'Reilly Factor (emphasis added):
BILL O'REILLY (HOST): I'm sure you were glued to the set this afternoon. President Obama announced the economy was improving, jobs are 4.9 percent unemployment. Should we give the president credit for that?
DONALD TRUMP: Look, you can't give credit. The economy is having the worst -- it's so bad. Hey, Bill, every time I go out, I have packed auditoriums, packed rooms because people don't have jobs. They don't have the jobs they want.
O'REILLY: But it's 4.9 percent unemployment.
TRUMP: Any time -- it's a phony number, Bill. The number is 25 percent, and probably higher than that. People are looking for jobs, they can't find them, they keep looking, they give up, and now they're statistically employed. Bill, the economy is doing terribly. Look at even now the stock market, finally, that was the one part of the economy, and finally that's crashing. These are phony numbers put up by politicians to make them look good. When you hear 5 percent and 4.9 percent, it's not the right number. Plus, as you probably have heard, the jobs are bad jobs. They're really low-level jobs and bad jobs, I have seen 15 different reports on that. But the fact is, if you look around for a job for months and months, you can't get it, you just sort of go home and forget about it, you are considered employed. There are millions of people out there, Bill, that can't get jobs.
O'REILLY: All right. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 2/5/16]
Fact-Checkers Have Previously Debunked Trump's Faulty Unemployment Numbers
PolitiFact Gives Trump's “42 Percent” Unemployment Claim “Pants On Fire” Rating. In a September 2015 article, PolitiFact rated Trump's 42 percent unemployment claim “Pants on Fire,” its lowest rating, noting that the number comes from a measurement that “has serious flaws,” adding that “Trump's faith in the accuracy of the 42 percent figure is misplaced:”
We asked the Trump campaign for a source of the 42 percent figure, but they didn't respond. The Fact Checker, however, traced it back to a column by David Stockman, who served as President Ronald Reagan's budget director.
Economists say Stockman's way of looking at the question -- using actual hours worked divided by a theoretical maximum that could have been worked, rather than determining whether individual people are employed or unemployed -- is provocative. But they say this raw measurement has serious flaws.
Stockman's calculation “treats people voluntarily working part-time hours as partly unemployed, even if they have excellent reasons for wanting to hold only a part-time job, such as rearing children, attending school or college, being disabled, or transitioning into retirement,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “A lot of the shortfall between full-time and part-time employment is perfectly reasonable, as is a potential worker's decision not to work or look for paid work at all.”
In other words, Trump's faith in the accuracy of the 42 percent figure is misplaced.
Trump keeps repeating that the unemployment rate may be as high as 42 percent. But getting a percentage that high requires believing that being a high school, college or graduate student, a senior citizen, a stay-at-home parent, a job-training participant, or having a disability is no excuse for not holding down a job, or for working less than 40 hours in a week. The highest alternative unemployment-rate measure we could come up with that had any credibility was 14.8 percent, and even that exaggerated figure is only about one-third of the way to Trump's 42 percent. We rate his claim Pants on Fire. [PolitiFact, 9/30/15]
Wash. Post's Fact Checker: Trump's Estimate Is “Ridiculous.” In an August 2015 fact-check of Trump's 42 percent unemployment claim, The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler ruled that “Trump has asserted a ridiculous estimate,” and gave Trump's claim his most extreme rating for untruthfulness, “Four Pinocchios.” According to the Post's Fact Checker:
Trump hints at his method in the interview with Time. “I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment - because you have ninety million people that aren't working,” he said. “Ninety-three million to be exact. If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42 percent.”
Trump may have seen a chart, but he misread it. Yes, the BLS shows that there are 93.7 million people “not in the work force,” but the vast majority of those people do not want to work. Most are retired or simply are not interested in working, such as stay-at-home parents.
Trump has asserted a ridiculous estimate. Even a President Trump would be unable to make much of dent in this supposed unemployment rate, given that most of the Americans he is counting as “unemployed” are not in the labor force by choice.
If 20 percent was false, 42 percent is worthy of Four Pinocchios. [The Washington Post, Fact Checker, 8/21/15]