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Has the president created lots of jobs? Putting Trump’s claims in context

June 13, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
Just four months into his term, President Trump has made numerous claims about the jobs he's created and saved. What's the real record? William Brangham reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of the president’s agenda is aimed at kicking the economy into higher gear and creating more jobs.

Just four months into office, the president has made numerous claims about the jobs he’s created and the jobs he’s saved. He’s in Wisconsin tonight, and is spending a good part of his week promoting some of his
job-creating initiatives.

But what’s the real record on some of the president’s claims?

William Brangham takes a look behind the numbers.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Today, the president repeated a claim he’s been making for months: His policies are creating new jobs that far surpass his predecessors.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think probably seldom has any president and administration done more or had more success so early on, including a record number of resolutions to eliminate job-killing regulations. And we see it all over the country, where jobs are starting that would never have started, ever, under any circumstance.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Earlier this month, the president claimed he helped claim more than one million new jobs.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: More than a million private sector jobs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But that number was based on an estimate from a payroll company. The U.S. Labor Department reported far fewer jobs. This weekend, the president correctly tweeted out a lower number, 600,000.

STEVEN RATTNER, Former Adviser to President Obama: In my 40 years of being in and around Washington and economic policy, I have never seen a president try to take credit for as many things as he has tried to take credit for on the job front.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Steve Rattner is an analyst and Wall Street financier who also headed President Obama’s Auto Industry Task Force.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the four months before President Trump’s election, the U.S. economy added about 840,000 jobs. In the four months since his inauguration, it’s added about 600,000.

STEVEN RATTNER: The U.S. economy is like a huge battleship. It doesn’t turn fast. And so I think to judge any president by a few months of results, whether they’re good or bad, is way premature.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Veronique de Rugy, a libertarian economist at George Mason University, says giving credit to a president for job numbers, good or bad, is misleading.

VERONIQUE DE RUGY, George Mason University: It’s wrong to be thinking about the power of the president in terms of jobs. What is important to think is how — what kind of policies can be put in place to grow the economy, and that, in theory, creates jobs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Since he was elected, the president claims he’s persuaded numerous companies to keep and grow jobs here in the U.S., but analysts who have looked at these numbers say they’re not nearly as clear-cut as the president says.

Take the president’s claim back in December that the heating and cooling companies United Technologies and Carrier would be keeping jobs in the U.S. and not sending them to Mexico.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will tell you that United Technologies and Carrier stepped it up, and now they’re keeping — actually, the number is over 1,100 people, which is so great, which is so good.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: CEO Greg Hayes told CNBC that a personal phone call from the president and his business-friendly platform were important factors.

GREGORY HAYES, CEO, United Technologies: And he simply said, “Look, Greg, I need you to re-look at the decision to close the Indianapolis factory of Carrier.” He said, “We’re going to do a lot of things in this country that is going to make it a lot more conducive to manufacturing.”

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It turned out, though, only 800 jobs were staying in the U.S., while 1,300 were in fact leaving the country.

And those jobs that were staying came after the company received $7 million in tax incentives from the state of Indiana.

Another example, just a few weeks before the inauguration, Ford Motor Company announced they had scrapped plans for a new billion-dollar plant in Mexico. The president hailed the decision, but Ford’s then CEO, Mark Fields, later said not moving to Mexico was mostly a business decision.

MARK FIELDS, Former CEO, Ford Motor Company: Well, the main reason for not building the plant and canceling the plant in Mexico is just due to market demand.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For critics of the president, like Steven Rattner, these claims are P.R. stunts to give the appearance of action.

STEVEN RATTNER: My colleague and I recently put together a list for The New York Times of every place he had taken credit.

And, in fact, he doesn’t deserve credit for any of them. The only jobs that he can legitimately take credit for saving were those 800 jobs at Carrier Corporation early in the administration.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In one case, the Trump administration’s claim about job creation has blurred job categories.

SCOTT PRUITT, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: Since the last — fourth quarter of last year until most recently, added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last weekend, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made this striking claim, that 50,000 new coal jobs have been created, which would mean the entire U.S. coal industry had doubled in just a few

Months. fact-checkers quickly pointed out that the vast majority of those new jobs were not in coal, but in mining. In other interviews, Pruitt included both categories in the 50,000 number.

SCOTT PRUITT: You know, since last — the fourth quarter of 2016, Chris, we have had almost 50,000 jobs created in the mining and — and — and coal sector alone, in fact, in the month of May, almost 7,000 jobs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Despite these claims, many economists say that, until the president’s major economic policies on taxes, regulation and trade are in place, they can’t make a proper verdict on his job creation.

VERONIQUE DE RUGY: If you look at the stock market, there is just a lot of excitement out there. The question is whether they’re going to be able to translate these into realities, which then turns into real economic growth that is based on something else but hope.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The White House is planning on hosting another set of CEOs later this week.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m William Brangham.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re going to continue to follow the jobs story.

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