Trump once again says economic data is fake news

Donald Trump attacked the government's official economic data this summer, calling it "fake" or "fake news." He likes to say that the "actual" number for the jobs stats or inflation rate would be far more flattering to him -- and look worse to President Joe Biden.
It's a return to form for the former president, who called the unemployment rate "total fiction" during his 2016 campaign before flipping and touting the same data when he was in office.
This time, Yahoo Finance found at least six recent cases where Trump discarded inflation and jobs data. In one example, during a speech in Arizona in July, Trump mischaracterized an already record-high inflation figure of 9.1%. "Biden has caused the worst inflation in 47 years," he said. "We're at 9.1%, but the real figure is much, much higher." Aside from not offering any evidence to support his claim, the 9.1% figure is the highest increase in 40 years, not 47.
Former President Donald Trump during a rally in Arizona in July. (REUTERS/Rebecca Noble)
"It's not based on reality or an accurate understanding of American experience. It's based only on political narratives," Aaron Sojourner, a former senior labor economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Obama and Trump, said in an interview.
Referring to Trump, he added: "He just makes things up."
Trump's baseless dismissal of economic data appears to be a feature of a widely anticipated third presidential bid that he could announce as early as this year. Additionally, his campaign will likely include a full-scale assault on the FBI after they searched his home for a possible violation of the Espionage Act. Trump is also likely to focus on his business practices, planning to lay off thousands of government employees traditionally isolated from politics.
Several requests to the former President's officials to back up his claims went unanswered.
“Now I accept these numbers very proudly”
Expressing doubts about official statistics played a prominent role in Trump's 2016 campaign. According to a Washington Post tally, the then-candidate called the official job report at least 19 times fake or false.
Back then, Trump echoed a trend among right-wing figures who, under the watch of then-President Obama, were quick to question all good economic news. For example, the late former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once claimed that "those guys from Chicago" changed the numbers to improve their political standing.
But for Trump, his tone changed abruptly once he was in office.
At a roundtable with manufacturers in 2017, he said of the unemployment rate, which was 4.3% at the time, "it didn't matter for a long time, but now I accept those numbers very proudly."
Then-press secretary Sean Spicer also shocked reporters that year when he told them he had spoken to Trump about the job dates "and he said to quote him very clearly: 'You may have been wrong in the past, but now it is very real.' ”
Sean Spicer holds a press conference at the White House in July 2017. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Both the unemployment rate and the consumer price index, the most commonly cited measure of inflation, are compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is no evidence the group, a division of the US Department of Labor, has changed its methods of collecting and sharing information between presidential administrations.
"They are very professional, very scientific [and] do their job absolutely correctly every month," says Sojourner, who is currently Labor Economist at W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. "We can argue to some extent about the interpretation of their meaning, but they follow very reliable procedures for obtaining accurate statistics about the labor market."
"This is fake news"
For Trump, the numbers are spoofed again in what could last until the 2024 election.
At a rally in May, Trump said of the 3.6 percent unemployment rate, "This is not true, this is not correct: this is fake news." He followed up with a post on Truth Social, his social media platform, and added adding that "[M]illions of people who are unemployed but not looking for a job are getting this number WRONG, as are so many other things in our failing country." Later that month he repeated one version of the claim at a rally in Illinois anew.
Trump appears to be referring to the civilian workforce, which stood at 164.6 million Americans in February 2020, just before the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. Contrary to Trump's claims, the metric has returned to similar levels under President Biden in recent months, recovering from workforce losses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, the latest jobs report found that total nonfarm payrolls has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. As of February 2020, the survey found the labor force was 152.504 million Americans-strong. In July 2022, that number was 152.536 million.
In more recent appearances this summer, Trump has turned his focus to inflation. Speaking in Arizona on July 22, he said flatly that inflation is much higher than the 9.1% annual rate reported in June.
A few days later, during a speech in Washington, DC on July 26, he dodged a bit, saying, "A lot of people think it's a lot higher."
Earlier this month, during a speech in Dallas, he said of the inflation rate, "By the way, I think it's a lot higher."
More recently, inflation eased in the July numbers as falling gas prices led to a lower-than-expected 8.5% yoy rise in CPI. Month-to-month inflation has been flat, with increases in things like groceries being offset by falling fuel prices.
If inflation continues to cool, Trump will most likely increase the frequency of his declarations that the data is cooked. But don't expect economists like Sojourner to take the claims seriously.
"I don't think [Trump's] false claims deserve good faith interpretation," he says.
Ben Vershkul is the Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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