President Trump said in his press conference on January 11th that 96 million Americans are unemployed. He later said again for emphasis: “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get.” But that’s a problem, because that is simply not the case.
Trump made a similar claim before - with a similarly tenuous connection to reality. In 2015 he claimed 93 million people were out of a job, but again, he was misleading or misunderstanding the data.
You see, those large statistics include students, retirees, disabled people, prisoners, stay-at-home parents, and independently wealthy people such as myself. Trump should know that - many of his immediate family members are in one or more of those categories.
So there are two possible problems here:
- President Trump does not understand how the unemployment rate correlates with those simply “not-in-the-workforce” as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- President Trump learned from his 2015 mistake but prefers the much more shocking 96 million number, which is almost 30% of Americans, rather than the actual 4.9% unemployment rate.
Given that he is the President of the United States and has a team of experts aiding him, the likelihood that a mistake he made in 2015 would happen again is troubling, but less likely than the second option: that he is purposely making things sound worse than they really are. He is insistent on defending a storyline born out of his campaign slogan, an idea that everything is broken and only he can fix our problems to become “great again.”
Trump’s insistence on a negative storyline is alarming by itself, but more alarming is the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics - the organization that has been collecting data for the unemployment rate every month since 1940 - could fall under the control of Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder. Puzder has a track record driven by self interest and a lack of worker’s rights and protection.
Combining Trump’s alternative facts with Puzder’s self-interested decision making could result in manipulated data from a proven institution that helps to inform legislation and policy around the workforce. Let’s hope that whoever the next secretary of labor is, that the BLS reports actual data, and stays away from alternative facts.