Fact checking the Republican debate

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson listens as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the debate held by Fox Business Network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Darren Hauck/Reuters

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson listens as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the debate held by Fox Business Network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Darren Hauck/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Ben Carson botched the economic effect of minimum wage increases. Jeb Bush again pitched a dubious target for economic growth. And Marco Rubio, in a tale about plumbers and philosophers, undersold the value of a college education.

The fourth Republican presidential debate was thick on economic policy — and with that came a variety of flubs and funny numbers.

Some of the claims Tuesday night and how they compare with the facts:

CARSON: “Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.”

THE FACTS: Actually, that usually doesn’t happen. When the minimum wage was increased in 1996 and 1997, the unemployment rate fell afterward. In June 2007, when the first of three annual minimum wage increases was implemented, the unemployment rate was unchanged until the Great Recession began six months later.

Economic research has found that when states raise their minimum wages higher than neighboring states, they don’t typically fare any worse than their neighbors.

It’s not known, though, what would happen to jobs if the minimum wage were doubled to $15— as many fast-food workers who demonstrated before the debate were demanding.


What does Ben Carson believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.


RUBIO: “Welders make more money than philosophers.”

Not so, on average.

Rubio is arguing that the U.S. has failed to invest in vocational training — a point also stressed by President Barack Obama’s now-defunct jobs council. But Rubio is wrong to suggest that studying philosophy is a waste of money and time.

PayScale, a firm that analyzes compensation, put the median mid-career income for philosophy majors at $81,200 in 2008, with welders making $26,002 to $63,698.

And Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce said in a 2014 analysis that median incomes were $68,000 for people with an advanced degree in philosophy or religious studies.

So knowing Plato and getting a college degree still pays off.


What does Marco Rubio believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.


JEB BUSH: “We could get to 4 percent growth.”

THE FACTS: That’s a highly improbable target because of forces in the economy that are beyond the control of any president.

Those forces have been decades in the making: an exodus from the workforce of the huge generation of baby boomers, rising automation and low-wage competition overseas. Those factors and more have limited income growth, which in turn cuts into the consumer spending that drives most economic growth.

Bush frequently holds out hope of 4 percent growth, but even conservative economists who like his fiscal and tax plans consider it a false hope. According to current forecasts, growth is expected to average roughly half that rate.


What does Jeb Bush believe? Where the candidate stands on 11 issues.


TED CRUZ: Since 2008, the economy has grown on average only 1.2 percent a year, showing “the Obama economy is a disaster.”

THE FACTS: That average is correct as far as it goes, but it masks the fact that Obama inherited a raging recession in his first year, when the economy shrank by 2.5 percent. In the five years since, the economy expanded an average of 2 percent, more than Cruz’s figure but still a relatively weak recovery in historical terms.


What does Ted Cruz believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.


CARLY FIORINA: “Obamacare isn’t really helping anybody.”

THE FACTS: President Barack Obama’s health care law may or may not be good for the country on balance. But it’s clearly helping many people.

In the two years it’s been in effect, the share of Americans without health insurance has declined to 9 percent, a historic low. People with pre-existing health conditions can no longer be turned away by insurers, and everyone is required to have coverage or face fines.

While the coverage mandate in Obama’s law remains highly unpopular, state-run high-risk health insurance pools like the one Fiorina proposes to replace the law have been tried before and failed to solve the problem.


What does Carly Fiorina believe? Where the candidate stands on 10 issues.


CARSON: Discussing the presence of Russian troops in Syria, added that “the Chinese are there” as well.

THE FACTS: China has no publicly known deployment of military forces in Syria. In recent days, some news reports have suggested that China would send a warship to Syria, but China’s foreign ministry has denied that.

China has used its status as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to block the U.N. from taking action on Syria, citing a commonly heard argument against violating Syrian sovereignty.

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