Biden Wrongly Touts ‘Record’ Economic Growth, Unemployment

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When a politician boasts of a “record,” our ears perk up. Is it really a record? In President Joe Biden’s case, when it comes to economic growth and unemployment, it’s simply not.

In several recent campaign speeches, Biden has falsely touted “record economic growth,” pointing to last quarter’s 5.2% growth in real gross domestic product. That’s stronger than economists expected, but quarterly GDP growth has been greater than that many, many times.

“Record economic growth at 5% this last quarter,” Biden said at a campaign reception in Weston, Massachusetts, on Dec. 5. He made similar remarks at two other stops in Boston that day, and he has continued to claim “record” or “historic” economic growth at campaign stops in California and Philadelphia.

A White House official told us Biden’s claim referred to the fact that the third quarter growth was the highest in nearly 10 years and higher than any quarter under former President Donald Trump — not including the wild fluctuations that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We asked why a nearly 10-year stretch would make this a “record,” but we didn’t get a response.

It’s fair enough to set aside some of the impact from the economic fallout of the pandemic. In 2020, during Trump’s tenure, GDP plunged in the second quarter by 28% — when businesses closed and Americans largely stayed at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 — and then rebounded in the third quarter, growing by 34.8%. Those numbers truly are the record decline and growth, but they’re due to unique circumstances. (All of the quarterly figures, which come from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, are the real — meaning inflation-adjusted — percentage change from the previous quarter, seasonally adjusted at annual rates.)

Biden also discounts 2021 as part of the pandemic, a year of continued economic recovery, widespread vaccinations and lifting of COVID-19 restrictions across the country. That year, quarterly GDP grew by 5.2%, 6.2%, 3.3% and 7%.

Setting aside 2020 and 2021, the last time GDP growth hit or surpassed 5.2% was in the second quarter of 2014, when it was 5.3%. That’s the White House’s nearly 10-year time frame. But nearly a decade isn’t a record.

The BEA figures go back to 1947. There have been 72 times that quarterly GDP growth was at or above 5.2% since then, not including the 2020-2021 pandemic years.

Unemployment — Also Not a ‘Record’

In Massachusetts, Biden also boasted of “record low unemployment — 21 straight months of unemployment below 4%.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 3.7% in November, the 22nd month in a row that the rate was below 4%.

That is a long stretch of low unemployment, but it’s not a “record.” The rate was below 4% for 27 straight months from late 1967 to early 1970, and for 35 straight months from 1951 to 1953.

The unemployment claim is a shortened version of a talking point we’ve written about before. In the summer, the president repeatedly said that “unemployment has been below 4% for the longest stretch in over 50 years.”

That’s true. At the time, the streak stood at 18 months — and it has continued.

As we wrote then, a slight change in Biden’s metric — setting the threshold at or below 4% — would enable his predecessor, Trump, to claim a streak of 24 straight months. The Biden administration has now tied that measure: Unemployment has been at or below 4% since December 2021.

At a Dec. 9 campaign event in Pacific Palisades, California, Biden also said: “historic low unemployment for Black and Latinos, historic — in all of American history, it’s never been this low.” That’s not quite right.

The unemployment rate for Black Americans did hit a historic low — a record — of 4.7% in April. It has now crept up to 5.8%, as of November.

Similarly, the Hispanic unemployment rate was 3.9% in September 2022 — again, a record — but the latest figure is 4.6%.

As we said when Trump used to boast of record-low unemployment for Black and Hispanic Americans, before the pandemic, the rates — for all Americans — generally had been trending down for several years before Trump took office. In 2020, they shot up due to the pandemic, and the rates have been trending back down since then, with some fluctuations.

Under both Biden and Trump, the gap between white and Black, and white and Hispanic, unemployment has remained.

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