Trump fact check: Do his dire-sounding stats hold up?

  • Donald Trump

    Donald Trump

 
Daily Herald news services
Updated 7/22/2016 12:54 AM

Donald Trump's dire-sounding acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday night is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated -- and sometimes the facts are just wrong.

When facts are inconveniently positive -- such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent -- Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In his prepared text, Trump promised to present "the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper." But he relies on statistics ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources. Here is a rundown of some of Trump's key claims.

Foreign policy, national security

• "After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the entire world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis now threatens the West. ... This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness."

It's an exaggeration to suggest Clinton, or any secretary of state, is to blame for the widespread instability and violence across the Middle East. Clinton worked to impose sanctions that helped coax Tehran to a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers last year, a deal in which Iran rolled back its nuclear program to get relief from sanctions that were choking its economy. She did not start the war in Libya, but supported a NATO intervention well after violence broke out between rebels and the forces of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country slid into chaos after Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, leaving it split between competing governments. Clinton had no role in military decisions made during the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Republicans' claim that high-level officials in Washington issued a "stand-down" order delaying a military rescue in Benghazi has been widely debunked. On Iraq, Clinton as a senator voted in 2002 to grant President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq, but has since said it was a "mistake." Many in the Middle East do not regret Saddam's ouster and regional allies allowed U.S. bases in their country to support the war. But many also now fear the Islamic State group, which rose in the chaos of Syria's civil war and Iraq's security vacuum.

Crime

• "The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent, compared to this point last year."

This is wrong. The number of law enforcement officers killed on the job has increased 8 percent, compared to this point in 2015.

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Moreover, the overall number of police deaths has decreased in the past two decades. For the past 10 to 15 years, traffic-related incidents (including pursuits and instances in which officers are intentionally struck) have been the leading cause of death among police officers.

• "Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America's 50 largest cities. That's the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation's capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore."

Trump cherry-picks data to paint an alarming picture of homicide trends, when in reality, the homicide rate has been declining for decades.

In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the nation's 50 largest cities. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent over 2014, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore.

But the percentage increase was large because the number of homicides in 2014 was relatively small. Meanwhile, homicide trends have been split in the major cities so far this year: Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in the first quarter of 2016 and 31 saw an increase.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• "My opponent wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment."

Hillary Clinton has not proposed any revocation of the constitutionally protected right to bear arms. She does support a ban on certain military-style weapons, similar to the law President Bill Clinton signed in the 1990s. That ban expired after 10 years and was not renewed. Clinton also backs an expansion of existing criminal background checks to apply to weapons sales at gun shows. The checks now apply mainly to sales by federally licensed gun dealers.

Immigration

• "My opponent has called for a radical 550 percent increase in Syrian (refugees). ... She proposes this despite the fact that there's no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from. I only want to admit individuals into our country who will support our values and love our people."

Trump persists in making the bogus claim that the U.S. doesn't screen refugees. The administration both screens them and knows where they are from. The Department of Homeland Security leads the process, which involves rigorous background checks. Processing of a refugee can take 18 months to two years, and usually longer for those coming from Syria. Refugees are also subject to in-person interviews and fingerprint and other biometric screening. For all that caution, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Islamic State group could try to place operatives among refugees. Last year, FBI Director James Comey said data about people coming from Syria may be limited, adding, "If we don't know much about somebody, there won't be anything in our database."

• "Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens."

This number sounds much worse than it really is. In fiscal 2015, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly 140,000 convicted criminals, but ICE has estimated that nearly 1 million noncitizens with final deportation orders remain in the United States.

Of those, 182,786 have been convicted of crimes, and only about 6,000 have been detained.

The actual crimes committed by this group are not documented, however, so Trump cannot easily claim that all of these illegal immigrants "threaten peaceful citizens." A significant percentage of their crimes involve immigration violations and nonviolent offenses, according to historical records.

• "The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources."

This is another cherry-picked number. From October to June, just over 50,000 families were apprehended at the southwestern border, up from about 40,000 in all of the previous fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But overall apprehensions, including of unaccompanied minors, are running only slightly higher than in 2015 and remain far less than in 2014, 2013 and 2012.

Many of the Central American families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are being allowed into the country pending review of their cases in immigration court. If they are being released, it is typically because they have requested asylum because they are fleeing extreme violence, instability and endemic poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

• "Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers."

This claim is quite convoluted. First, Trump makes no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. The flow of legal immigrants has increased over the past four decades, stabilizing at roughly 1 million people obtaining lawful permanent resident status every year since 2001.

The unauthorized immigrant population has increased from about 4 million in 1990 to about 12 million in 2007. But researchers estimate that the number of illegal immigrants has been essentially stable since then, due to the large number of unauthorized immigrants who left the country during and after the Great Recession. In general, economists have found that immigration benefits the U.S. economy and most workers. The slight negative effects are felt most strongly by less-educated and low-skilled workers.

Economy

• "America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world."

Trump continues to repeat this inaccuracy. The U.S. tax burden is actually the fourth lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That's far below Sweden's tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain's 32.6 percent or Germany's 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower figure than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.

• "2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office."

Trump is being misleading here, turning a good news story into something negative.

From March 2009 to March 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the number of Latinos in poverty has increased by 750,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the overall number of the Latinos has grown by nearly 7 million. So the percent of Latinos living in poverty has declined from 25.3 percent to 23.6 percent.

• "Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000 -- 16 years ago."

This is a stale statistic, based on 2014 census data, which ignores the fact that incomes have risen sharply in the last two years.

A more up-to-date figure comes from the nonpartisan economic consulting firm Sentier Research, which produces a monthly report using data from the Census Bureau's monthly household survey.

The most recent report, released Thursday, hours before Trump's speech, shows median annual household income was $57,206 in June, down slightly from January 2000, when it was $57,826 in 2016 dollars. So household income is essentially flat, not down $4,000.

• "Forty-three million Americans are on food stamps."

Trump's point is that America's economy has suffered under President Barack Obama's administration. But he fails to mention that this is actually the lowest number of people receiving food stamps since the program reached its peak in 2013, a sign that the economy is finally improving enough to help the desperately poor families who depend on it.

• "Fifty-eight percent of African American youth are not employed."

The official unemployment rate for black youth is about half what Trump says it is.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among blacks 16 to 19 years old was 31.2 percent in June. This official unemployment rate refers to people who are actively looking for work, as a percentage of the total available workforce.

• "Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely."

This is yet another misleading figure. The number of people who have left the workforce has certainly increased since 2009, though this is usually expressed as a decline in the labor participation rate, which is the portion of working-age people are actively employed or seeking employment. The labor participation rate has dropped under Obama, from 65.7 percent in 2009 to 62.7 percent.

However, experts say about half the decline in the labor participation rate since 1999 is due to the retirement of the baby boomers. Economists estimate just 15 percent of the drop in the labor force involves people who want a job and are of prime working age (25-54).

• "America has lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton."

Trump picks a high point for manufacturing jobs, in Clinton's second term. He also ignores the fact that the economy has added nearly 1 million manufacturing jobs since 2010, the low point after the Great Recession. It is simplistic to pin blame for the decline in manufacturing jobs on trade agreements. Increased efficiency and technological advancement have also played a major role.

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