Editor's note: David Jolly is PolitiFact's Republican guest columnist and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Florida's 13th congressional district from 2014-17. Read more about the guest columnist position here.
* * *
PolitiFact’s April 26 rating of President Donald Trump’s assertion that "black unemployment" is at a historic low under his administration reflects perfectly the important and disciplined work of fact-checkers, agnostic of political opinion and strictly adherent to the accuracy or inaccuracy of a politician’s statement.
At issue is the following statement by President Trump during an interview with Fox News: "Kanye (West) looks and he sees black unemployment at the lowest it’s been in the history of our country. He sees Hispanic unemployment at the lowest it’s been in the history of our country. He sees (women’s unemployment) the lowest it’s been in now almost 19 years."
While the president may have intended to imply he was fully responsible for the low unemployment rate among black Americans, he didn't make a clear claim in that regard. PolitiFact stuck strictly to the facts asserted by the president and rightly rated Trump’s statement as Mostly True.
As background, the unemployment rate for black Americans peaked at a high of 16.8 percent in March of 2010, following a nearly doubling of the rate that accelerated rapidly over the two preceding years, when the rate hovered around 8.5 percent in January 2008. The economic crisis of the time had taken its toll, particularly among black workers, and the ensuing economic rebound conversely foretold a coming decline in unemployment.
Accordingly, since its peak in 2010, the unemployment rate among black Americans has steadily declined with the overall drop in national unemployment rates. In particular, black unemployment has seen a consistent year-over-year decline in each year beginning in 2013.
In fact, by the start of the Trump administration, black unemployment had decreased approximately nine points from its high, standing at roughly 7.8 percent. After 15 months of the Trump presidency, black unemployment stands at 6.9 percent — almost one point lower than when Trump took office. The rate had dropped to a record low of 6.8 percent in December 2017.
Statistics are a funny thing. They can be cited for any number of purposes, from raw assessments to trends to comparative analysis. In this case, the president is correct that black unemployment is at an all-time low. His supporters are also correct in pointing out that the rate has fallen one full point since Trump assumed office.
But also correct are the economists and political skeptics of the president who point out that the decline in black unemployment has actually slowed under President Trump, achieving smaller year-over-year reductions than his predecessor.
The inevitable challenge for fact-checkers is always whether and how to provide context. In this case, the president made a factual statement about the current unemployment rate among black Americans, but he did not directly assert that his own policies had necessarily contributed to the historic low, nor did he attempt to compare this year's decline to that of past year's.
Perhaps his statement was intended to take personal credit for a historic occurrence regarding joblessness among black Americans. But if there was inference intended by Trump, there was none stated. Thus, though the unemployment trend among black Americans has continued downward for roughly eight years, and without the intervention of a national or economic disaster would have likely continued during the last 15 months, the president’s statement is a fair one.
Presumptions are rightly off-limits in fact-checking. Presumptions are for voters and pundits to make as political judgments.
PolitiFact stuck to the facts with this one and in doing so demonstrated both the disciplined work and enormous value of fact-checking that is too often taken for granted.
President Trump said, "Kanye looks and he sees black unemployment at the lowest its been in the history of our country." That is true, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that gathers economic data and began studying unemployment rates by race in 1972.
Donald Trump was correct in his statement. PolitiFact got it right.
See the fact-check.