Fact-checking claims about the economy in 2014

The economy improved in 2014, but some worry that it hasn't come back fast enough.
The economy improved in 2014, but some worry that it hasn't come back fast enough.

The nation’s economy gained steam in 2014, recording improved growth and lower unemployment rates. But ordinary Americans could hardly be blamed for feeling that their income had stagnated. And politicians couldn’t resist using economic metrics to flesh out their speeches and public comments.

Here are a few of the fact-checks we did during 2014 on the nation’s economy.

A better economic recovery than other advanced economies?

• On Nov. 16, President Barack Obama offered a variation of one of his go-to talking points, saying that "over the last few years, we’ve put more people back to work than all the other advanced economies combined." We found that since 2009, the United States has created roughly the same number of jobs as the 35 other advanced economies combined, and more than the other six biggest economies. However, part of Obama’s phrasing -- the part about putting "more people back to work" -- was overstated. The labor force participation rate has consistently declined during this period, suggesting that more and more unemployed Americans are dropping out of the workforce, rather than taking new jobs. On balance, we rated the claim Half True.

Less economic mobility than other countries

• Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- a possible Republican presidential contender for 2016 -- also made an international comparison this year. He said that, "among the developed nations, we are the least economically and socially mobile country in the world." We found data suggesting that America does indeed lag behind most every developed country in terms of being able to move from the bottom rungs of the income ladder to the top. Experts we checked with said Bush’s claim was reasonable, despite some technical disagreements on how mobility is measured and some minor differences in academic studies. PolitiFact Florida rated the statement True.

Wage stagnation

• Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said that "the average family is now bringing home $4,000 less than they did just five years ago." According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the decline is even greater, making Portman’s overall point even stronger than the data he offered. So we rated his claim True.

Do minimum-wage hikes lead to faster job growth?

• Obama -- who has aggressively, but so far fruitlessly, advocated a rise in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour -- has argued that boosting the wage floor can help create jobs. "When you hear folks saying, well, if you raise the minimum wage that's going to be fewer jobs -- it turns out the states that have raised the minimum wage have had faster job growth than the states that haven’t raised the minimum wage," he added. On the numbers, we found, Obama had a point -- at least when using the very specific time frame he chose. But economists warned that the numbers are too noisy, the margins of error are too big, and the time frame may be too short to be certain that we’re seeing the effect of a higher minimum wage. We rated it Half True.

Workers dropping out of the labor force

• Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked -- and answered -- a question. "Why are jobs and economic growth so dismal?" he said. "We’ve got the lowest labor force participation in over three decades, since 1978." We found that Cruz had his statistics right. But we also noted that at least part of the trend has been years in the making and appears strongly tied to the inevitable aging of the baby boomer population. In other words, it’s not all Obama’s fault, nor is it going to change the minute he leaves office. We rated Cruz’s statement Mostly True.

Income inequality

• Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress, took aim at income inequality, saying that "95 percent of the income gains in the last few years have gone to the top 1 percent." Tanden accurately reflected the findings of one report, and other studies confirmed the overall trend, although the disparities in gains between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else are not always as large as Tanden said, depending on how you define "income." PunditFact rated her claim Mostly True.

Immigration and the workforce

• Obama’s decision to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants has stirred fear that a tough job market just got even more challenging for those looking for work. In a newspaper op-ed, Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland, said immigrants "have captured all of the nearly 9 million jobs created since 2000." Morici is correct that foreign-born workers, both citizens and noncitizens, do disproportionately well in the job market. However, the study he cited found that immigrants accounted for about 70 percent of the net job growth, not "all." PunditFact  rated the claim Mostly False.