WASHINGTON ― During his campaign for president, Donald Trump frequently said the official U.S. unemployment statistics were “phony” and that the real jobless rate was many times higher than the government said.
On Friday, he touted the numbers in the first monthly jobs report released under his administration.
“Two-hundred twenty-seven thousand jobs,” Trump said at the White House. “Great spirit in the country right now, so we’re very happy about that. I think that it’s going to continue, big league. We’re bringing back jobs.”
Trump used to love complaining about the Labor Department’s monthly report, which tallies the number of jobs gained and the unemployment rate. The rate hovered around 5 percent for most of the presidential campaign, which economists consider a decently low number.
“Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment,” Trump said last February. “The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
“The five percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics,” he said in an August speech.
In November, right before the election, Trump again called the unemployment rate number “phony.”
Trump could have pointed to other aspects of the government’s data that suggested the labor market hasn’t fully recovered from the Great Recession, but instead of going for a subtle argument, he preferred to attack the headline number as dishonest.
If the number were a hoax, it would necessitate a conspiracy involving hundreds of civil servants. No such conspiracy has ever been uncovered.
Dean Baker, an economist with the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, closely analyzes the monthly jobs report data for trends among industries. His “Jobs Byte” column for Friday’s report said the results were mixed. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4.8 percent.
“The report is fine, but if anything, shows a less rapid pace of growth than the average for the last three years,” Baker said in an email, pointing out that the report covers the month of January, using data from the second week of the month as its reference point.
“Next month will be the first report that will give us data on the performance of the economy under President Trump,” Baker said.
If for some reason the economy falters and the jobless rate starts going up, look for Trump to bring back his “hoax” talking point. There is precedent for a president thinking the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is out to get him, after all. In the waning days of his presidency, a paranoid Richard Nixon fumed about a “Jewish cabal” at BLS undermining him with unfavorable jobs numbers.