The administration’s revision of recent economic history reaches impressive new lows

For the rest of us, though, it’s an obviously ridiculous claim on about 16 levels.

Astute readers may recall that, earlier this year, broad swaths of the economy were shuttered in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus that began to spread in the United States in January. Many stores, restaurants and other businesses furloughed or temporarily laid off their employees, with an eye toward bringing them back on once the immediate threat of the virus had passed. So from March to April, the number of people working in the country fell by 20.8 million.

That was four months ago. So Pence just looks at the last three, when businesses began to bring people back — often prematurely, as it turned out.

We’ll get to the numbers and Pence’s comparison in a second. Before we do, though, consider just the use of “created” in that tweet. Setting aside the extent to which the federal government can claim credit for “creating” jobs, an issue of fervent partisan dispute during the administration of Barack Obama, it’s obviously the case that the vast, vast majority of the 9.3 million jobs added in the last three months weren’t “created” by anyone. They were vacated and refilled. It’s like asking 1,000 families to leave a flood zone in advance of bad weather and, when they return, claiming you had built 1,000 houses.

On the show itself, Pence didn’t use the exact phrase that’s included in the tweet. Asked about the addition of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to the Democratic ticket, Pence told Hannity, “It’s on.” And he did claim that “we have already created more jobs in the last three months than Joe Biden and Barack Obama created in their eight years in office.”

Later, he moderated it a bit.

“When the coronavirus pandemic struck, it’s that solid foundation that President Trump poured that’s allowed us to add 9 million jobs back as we open up this economy just in the last three months alone.”

The latter part of that sentence is true: 9 million jobs were added in the past three months. But that comparison to Obama is wrong.

Over Obama’s two terms in office, the economy added 11.6 million jobs, 10.4 million of those in his second term alone. (We’re adopting the admittedly loaded vernacular of “added jobs,” shorthand for increases in the number of people working.) The increase in the last three months was larger than the increase in Obama’s first term, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession, but that’s not what Pence said.

But, again, looking only at the past three months is just obvious cherry-picking. Look at the last four months, and we’re down 11.5 million jobs. Look at the duration of Trump’s presidency — the metric Pence uses for Obama! — and we’re down 6 million. If we’re using the past three months — the fastest period of growth on record solely because of the way the pandemic unfolded — as the signature period for Trump, why can’t we pick, say, the period from October 2010 to December 2016, when 15.3 million jobs were added while Obama was president? I mean, I know why Pence doesn’t want to do that, but it’s no less valid.

Pence seems to have inherited from his boss this use-what-we’ve-got approach to data. At the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Trump unveiled a chart showing the recent “jobs boom.”

“The economy generated over 9 million jobs in the last three years,” Trump said, meaning months, “a record by far and 12 million more jobs than experts predicted.”

He turned to the graph next to him.

“So there you are. You look at that,” he said. “And that’s a record, and it’s a record for the quarter. We had over 9 million, substantially more than 9 million jobs. So those are incredible numbers about our economy and how it’s coming back. It’s coming back very strongly.”

The chart next to which Trump was standing showed what Pence had discussed: the 3-month change in employment, as though that’s a standard measure used to evaluate job growth. It was labeled as being from “Haver Analytics,” though a White House official told Trump that the data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are several nits one could pick with the chart, including the apparently mislabeled x-axis which suggests that the plunge in employment for some reason began in late 2019. But the most important thing worth pointing out is the arbitrariness of that three-month shift. Here, for example, is what a four-month shift looks like by comparison.

Heading up, still — but not quite as quickly and not yet into positive territory.

These are admittedly minor points in the grand scheme of things. But, particularly when combined with the administration’s eagerness to fudge and misrepresent data related to the pandemic itself, it establishes the extent to which Trump and his team are willing to sacrifice accuracy for political utility.


After Trump tweeted out a version of the jobs graph he was showing, we were able to determine what data it was using. The article has been updated to reflect the claims it makes.

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