State of the Union addresses are typically hard to fact-check since they are generally very political in nature. Below are some of the interesting fact-checked claims that President Barrack Obama made in this year’s SOTU.
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“Over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.”
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While Obama has touted what he often calls the “longest stretch of uninterrupted private sector job growth” in U.S. history, the average number of jobs created in this period is significantly lower than in under either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. (When you exclude a single month of decline, in fact, Clinton and Reagan had streaks of 85 and 71 months, respectively.)
Even with the massive jobs losses at the start of his presidency, Obama can claim that nearly 6.4 million jobs were added since he took office. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the comparable number was 4.5 million –and for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, the figure was 18 million and 9.4 million, respectively.
“Thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.”
True. The with national gasoline prices are currently averaging $2.05/ gallon, down from $3.30/ gallon same time last year.
“Today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.”
The Nation’s Report Card, released in 2013, showed improvement in national math and reading tests administered by the federal government every two years. The 2013 reading score was the highest among all previous assessments for students in eighth grade. For fourth graders, the 2013 reading score was the highest out of all previous years except for 2011. Still, the biennial increases in fourth- and eight-grade students’ reading and math scores during Obama’s administration have been incremental.
For high school graduation rates, Obama’s claim is on point, however, high school graduation rate is just one measure of success. Despite the high percent in the report, there were disparities in graduation rates based on socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity.
When it comes to college graduation rates, however, there is some context missing in his statement. Obama said “more Americans finish college than ever before.” Education Department data show a steady increase in graduation rates for first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at four-year colleges, from the Class of 1996 to the Class of 2006.
However, recent studies show an increase in the number of students graduating in six years than four. Graduating in six years is more expensive for students, and adds to their debt. In addition, the Education Department records do not take into consideration a separate category of students – transfer students.
“Our deficits cut by two-thirds”
The improvement in the economy, coupled with the spending cuts in the sequester, has yielded a significantly lower deficit than just a few years ago. The deficit for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 was $483 billion, a decline of nearly $200 billion from the year before.
For economists, raw numbers mean less than the percentage of the gross domestic product, and here too, there has been an improvement. As a percentage of the GDP, the deficit in fiscal year 2014 was 2.8 percent, the lowest level since 2007. For fiscal year 2009, when Obama took office, the deficit was 9.8 percent, so that’s a 71 percent reduction.
Interestingly, Obama’s 2010 budget, introduced in 2009 when deficits were soaring, predicted that the deficit in 2014 would be $535 billion and 2.9 percent of GDP–meaning the administration beat its five-year deficit target.
“Thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives. Wages are finally starting to rise again. We know that more small-business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.”
A December 2014 survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported the highest Small Business Optimism Index since October 2006. The survey found a seasonally adjusted net 17 percent of businesses planned to raise wages in coming months – a two-percentage-point increase from the previous month. Three percent of businesses reported reductions in worker compensation, compared to 24 percent that reported a boost in compensation. The net 25 percent of businesses reporting higher wages was up 4 percentage points from the previous month.
But it is too early to say that this positive response from small businesses means “wages are finally starting to rise again.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally adjusted average hourly earnings in December 2014 for all businesses was $24.57 – just 40 cents higher than December 2013.
“Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.”
Obama is right. From the first quarter of 2010 through the second quarter of 2014, the United States created 7.5 million new jobs—compared to 7.4 million in the other advanced economies combined.
“Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.”
The low point for manufacturing jobs was reached in January 2010, and there has been a gain of 786,000 jobs since then. But Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the number of manufacturing jobs is still more than 300,000 fewer than when Obama took office in the depths of the recession — and 1.5 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007.
“It makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.”
In fiscal year 2014, the total cost of the Guantanamo Bay facility was $397 million, according to a Defense Department report. With approximately 155 detainees during the year, that averages out to about $2.6 million per detainee. Over the course of the past decade, the prison has cost a total of $8.2 billion, the report says.
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