13 Fact Checks on the State of the Union Address

By Published on February 6, 2019

President Donald Trump spoke for about one hour and 20 minutes Tuesday night in his second State of the Union address, interrupted — by Fox News Channel’s count — 102 times by applause.

Trump punctuated his speech by saluting the stories of Americans in the gallery: former prison inmates, World War II soldiers, a Holocaust survivor and a hero cop, an ICE agent, and a young cancer survivor among them.

But what about the specifics Trump cited? Did the president nail the facts? We checked out some of those that stood out. Here are 13.

1. “We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.”

Trump touted economic growth on his watch in the White House, which began Jan. 20, 2017.

The 5.3 million number appears to be slightly higher than the official number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says 4.9 million jobs have been created since January 2017.

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However, the number of job openings across the nation has climbed, according to a Wall Street Journal report in November that said unfilled jobs in the United States exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by more than 1 million.

Citing the Labor Department, the Journal reported there was a seasonally adjusted total of 7.01 million job openings on the last business day of September. By contrast, 5.96 million Americans were unemployed.

Now below 4 percent, the unemployment rate has been the lowest in nearly five decades.

2. “Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.”

A Dec. 7 report on the website of the Department of Agriculture, which operates the food stamp program, shows that the average annual participation in food stamps was 45.8 million in 2015, 44.2 million in 2016, 42.1 million in 2017, and 40.3 million in 2018.

The numbers show that the food stamp program saw a decline of participation from the end of Barack Obama’s administration to the beginning of Trump’s.

From January 2017 to September 2018, during Trump’s presidency, the food stamp program saw an approximate decrease of 4.1 million, according to the report.

It wasn’t immediately clear where the president got his “nearly 5 million” number.

3. “Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is cruel. One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north.”

A 2017 report from Doctors Without Borders looked at crossings into Mexico from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, which it calls the Northern Triangle of Central America. The report says that “nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey.”

In 2014, Fusion reported:

Increasingly, Central American women crossing through Mexico to the United States become victims of sexual assault. Some women choose to sell their bodies for safe passage, but others aren’t given a choice. Migrant shelter directors told Fusion [that] 80 percent of Central American women who make the journey to the U.S. are raped in Mexico.

4. “The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in 20 different American states, and they almost all come through our southern border. Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City.”

According to a May 2018 article from Time that cited older FBI numbers, MS-13, which originated in Central America, was operating in 42 states here.

In April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, noted an increase of MS-13 gang members entering the United States along the southern border.

“Stunningly, and disturbingly, there’s been an increase of more than 200 percent of MS-13 coming across the border,” Abbott said.

News reports Monday, including by The New York Times, back up Trump’s reference to an MS-13 member arrested after a subway beating and fatal shooting.

“A 26-year-old man who the police said is a member of the violent MS-13 street gang was arrested Monday in connection with the brazen murder of a gang rival on a Queens subway platform the previous day,” the Times reported.

5. “San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country. In response … a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.”

The Daily Signal documented the dramatic results of this wall in a 2017 video report from Kelsey Harkness at the scene.

The barrier erected at San Diego’s border with Mexico in the 1990s “contributed to a 75 percent decline in crossings in the years immediately after fencing was installed in the 1990s, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data,” NBC News reported Friday.

NBC reported that “the sector went from being the top location for border crossings to a relative ghost town with 26,086 apprehensions in fiscal year 2017, according to the Border Patrol.”

6. “Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded. Unemployment for Americans with disabilities has also reached an all-time low. ”

Unemployment for the three minority groups cited by Trump has been steadily falling, and hit record lows in 2018.

In May, black unemployment hit a record low of 5.9 percent, a number that was matched in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hispanic unemployment hit 4.4 percent in December, also a record low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number climbed slightly to 4.9 percent in January.

The unemployment rate for Asian-Americans fell to a record low of 2.2 percent in May, although the number climbed back up to 3.3 percent in January, according to the Bureau of labor Statistics.

Disabled Americans also have benefited from the growing economy.

The Wall Street Journal reported a “wave of disabled Americans joining or returning to the U.S. labor force, breaking a long-running trend that had pushed millions to the sidelines of work.”

The Journal added:

These workers have benefited from a tight economy with a very low overall unemployment rate — 3.9 percent in December, just above lowest level since 1969 — as employers in many sectors tackle a shortage of available workers by becoming more creative about whom they recruit.

7. “This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate — some after years and years of waiting.”

Trump pushed a theme of bipartisanship. As part of that theme, he asked the Senate to confirm more of his nominees for judicial and executive branch posts.

According to The Washington Times, Trump has “some 300 or so nominations that still languish, including more than 85 judicial picks that never saw final action.”

Senate Democrats have used procedural tactics to slow down the president’s nominations for the executive branch and the judiciary.

8. “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it. … Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.”

That is in fact the case, according to The Washington Post, which reported that on average Americans spend about $1,200 more per person on prescription drugs than anyone else in the world. Some cancer drugs cost $10,000 per month in the U.S.

The biggest surge in drug prices occurred in 2014 and 2015, after four years of slow growth, the Post reported.

Among reasons for the trend is that the governments of other countries — particularly in Europe, the second-biggest drug market — negotiate directly with drugmakers.

As for the sharpest decline in drug prices in 46 years, the Associated Press reported: “A broader look at the data shows that drug prices are still rising, but more moderately.”

AP added:

The Consumer Price Index for prescription drugs shows a 0.6 percent reduction in prices in December 2018 when compared with December 2017, the biggest drop in nearly 50 years. … However, that same index showed a 1.6 percent increase when comparing the full 12 months of 2018 with the entire previous year.

9. “We have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world, and now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”

Trump promoted U.S. success in energy production during his time in office.

In August, the Energy Department announced that America’s oil output hit 11.3 million gallons per day. This surpassed Russia’s output of 11.2 million.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced in September that the U.S. was the leading crude oil producer in the world.

The agency also reported that the U.S. has been the leading producer of natural gas since at least 2011, six years before Trump took office.

10. “Our hostages have come home, [North Korea’s] nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months.”

Trump previously announced that he would hold a second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The two will meet again Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam, he noted in the speech.

North Korea’s communist regime did not conduct a missile launch in 2018, although some media accounts suggest that wasn’t because of the Trump administration’s policy.

As for the hostages who have returned home, the regime released three American captives in May, ahead of the first Trump-Kim meeting.

11. “As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught.”

While much of his speech focused on areas of potential bipartisanship, Trump stressed the need for border security — the biggest point of division between his administration and Democrats.

This was the context of his warning about the newest movement of Central American migrants on their way through Mexico to the United States — prompting boos from Democrats in the House chamber.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that a caravan of 1,600 Central Americans was camped in the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras, west of Eagle Pass, Texas.

Coahuila state Gov. Miguel Angel Riquelme said the migrants arrived late Monday aboard 49 buses from the cities of Saltillo and Arteaga, the AP reported, and a smaller group was headed toward the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon.

12. “In the last two years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings.”

Trump reiterated numbers he pointed to in his Oval Office speech Jan. 8 on the need for a border wall, which The Daily Signal fact-checked at the time.

The total number of illegal immigrants arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the highest since 2014, according to a December report by the agency.

Trump’s arrest numbers match up with ICE immigration statistics compiled in 2017 and 2018:

The ICE report says 158,581 illegal immigrants were arrested in fiscal year 2018, and 138,117 of those had a criminal history. This is an 11 percent increase over 2017, when 143,470 illegal immigrants were arrested, 127,992 of them with a criminal record.

“The number of people with pending charges arrested by ICE was 48 percent higher in 2018 than in 2017, while arrests of those with criminal convictions dropped slightly,” Reuters reported.

According to The Washington Post, the report “shows that 145,262 of those deported were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them.”

A total of 5,872 known or suspected gang members were arrested, according to the report, as well as 42 thought to be terrorists.

ICE reports break down the charges and convictions following the arrests.

According to the 2017 report, 48,454 illegal immigrants were charged with or convicted of assault. The 2018 report shows similar numbers, with 50,753 illegal immigrants charged with or convicted of assault.

As for homicides, 1,886 illegal immigrants were charged with or convicted of the crime in 2017, and 2,028 last year. To reach the 30,000 sex crimes number, Trump appeared to draw from three categories: sex offenses not involving assault or commercialized sex (6,664 charges or convictions in 2017 and 6,888 last year); sexual assault (5,118 in 2017 and 5,350 last year); and commercialized sexual offenses (1,572 in 2017 and 1,739 last year).

13. “Working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals … increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”

A 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences highlighted the impact of illegal and legal immigrants on American workers. In a review of the report, Robert Rector, an expert on welfare and immigration at The Heritage Foundation, wrote:

The report shows that, other than a small number of scientifically educated immigrants, immigration produces little or no overall economic gain for non-immigrants but may cause a substantial shift in income from workers to business and capital owners. Also, immigrants overall produce a fiscal deficit due to the very large inflow of legal and illegal immigrants with low education levels in recent decades.

A Civil Rights Commission study in 2010 found that illegal immigration had a big impact on black men in particular. The report noted:

Illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are black men. Expert economic opinions concerning the negative effects range from modest to significant. Those panelists that found modest effects overall nonetheless found significant effects in industry sectors such as meatpacking and construction.

George J. Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote for Politico in 2016 on this issue, noting:

Both low- and high-skilled natives are affected by the influx of immigrants. But because a disproportionate percentage of immigrants have few skills, it is low-skilled American workers, including many blacks and Hispanics, who have suffered most from this wage dip. The monetary loss is sizable. The typical high school dropout earns about $25,000 annually.

According to census data, immigrants admitted in the past two decades lacking a high school diploma have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by roughly 25 percent. As a result, the earnings of this particularly vulnerable group dropped by between $800 and $1,500 each year.

 

Copyright 2019 The Daily Signal

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