Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

President Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 2021 President Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 2021

President Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 2021

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke February 17, 2021

President Joe Biden chose a town hall event in Milwaukee for his first major appearance as president outside the nation’s capital.

We took a closer look at a number of key statements he made while speaking for a little over an hour topics including COVID-19, racial justice and stimulus funds.

"Kids don't get ... COVID very often. It's unusual for that to happen."

In May, we rated Mostly False a claim by Republican state Rep. Janel Brandtjen that "children don’t seem to be getting this virus." That went beyond the claim Biden makes here in asserting it essentially doesn’t happen.

Children do get the virus less often. It’s the key reason Biden and others are pushing to open up more schools for in-person learning.

The latest CDC data shows children under 18 account for about 11% of COVID cases, though that group is more than 20% of the national population. There’s an even starker comparison in deaths by age group: children under 18 account for just 0.1% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide.

But Biden was talking about cases here. While less common than other age groups, there have still been 2.3 million cases, so calling this "unusual" is a stretch.

About 70% of the population needs to have antibodies for herd immunity to kick in

The antibodies referenced here could come from a vaccine or from the natural ones generated by people who have had COVID-19.

This is essentially identical to a claim checked by PolitiFact Texas in January 2021. They rated a 70% claim Mostly True.

This figure is essentially a theoretical one, and scientists disagree on how best to calculate it. Most estimates show the herd immunity threshold is somewhere between 60% and 83%, though others say the range could be a bit above or below that as well.

So Biden’s figure is solidly in the middle of this range, though citing an exact figure implies a precision we don’t necessarily have at this point.

"States make the decisions on who is in what order" for vaccines

This was Biden’s response after a Milwaukee woman asked if Biden would prioritize vaccines for vulnerable people like her son, who she said was diagnosed with pediatric COPD and has the lungs of a 60-year-old.

Biden is right. States have the final say in which groups receive the vaccine first, though most have followed federal recommendations. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issued initial guidance in December that the highest priority groups should be healthcare workers and long-term care residents, with later recommendations including other elderly citizens and front-line essential workers such as first responders and educators.

The nonpartisan health care research group Kaiser Family Foundation reported in December that 45 states followed the CDC committee’s plan for the first phase of rollout. Wisconsin is currently vaccinating healthcare personnel, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, police and fire staffers and adults 65 and older.

"I was listed as the poorest man in Congress for — not a joke — for over 30 years."

Biden served in Congress from 1973 until he became vice president in 2009, so he’s essentially claiming he was the poorest man in Congress throughout that span. With more than 500 lawmakers between the House and Senate, it’s a noteworthy claim.

Biden also brought up his income in October 2019, saying he entered and left Congress as one of the poorest men in government, which PolitiFact National rated Mostly True. But this new claim is much more sweeping.

Congressional wealth is notoriously difficult to pin down, since disclosure forms require only reporting assets in an income range (i.e. $500,000 to $1 million) rather than specific figures. And like PolitiFact National, we didn’t find any exhaustive comparison of those forms going back nearly far enough for the claim Biden makes.

But the Center for Responsive Politics did estimate Congressional wealth starting at the tail end of Biden’s career, and their databases show Biden ranked 528 of 543 in 2005, 520 of 537 in 2006, 532 of 544 in 2007 and 538 of 575 in 2008. We checked a few of his disclosure filings dating back to 1995 that the center posted, and they show similar income through that time. His 1973 filing showed no significant assets either, PolitiFact National reported.

So Biden, coming from a working-class family, certainly was on the low end of the Congressional wealth spectrum from what we can see. But his claim that he was the poorest throughout such a long span appears to overreach.

"We have to put more money in policing so we have legitimate community policing"

Biden said this in response to a question about defunding the police. While it’s not a factual assertion, we include it here because it’s the kind of statement where we often use our Flip-O-Meter, to see how a current and past policy positions line up.

It’s a noteworthy topic since Biden was often accused during the campaign of supporting defunding law enforcement. PolitiFact Wisconsin rated False an August 2020 claim from President Donald Trump that Biden was "on board with defunding the police."

We noted in that piece how a Biden column in USA TODAY said, "The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms." And his campaign website laid out a plan to spend $300 million to reinvigorate community policing by providing grants to hire officers that reflect the racial diversity of the communities they serve.

In short, this is consistent with Biden’s past position.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Yes, children do get coronavirus. It just might not be as serious, May 22, 2020

CDC, Demographic Trends of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US reported to CDC, Feb. 17, 2021

Kaiser Family Foundation, Population Distribution by Age, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

PolitiFact Texas, Examining how science determines COVID-19's 'herd immunity threshold,' Jan. 15, 2021

CDC, The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Interim Recommendation for Allocation Initial Supplies of COVID-19 Vaccine - United States, 2020, Dec. 11, 2020

CDC, ACIP Presentation Slides, December 19 and 20, 2020 Meeting 

Kaiser Family Foundation, How are States Prioritizing Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine First?, Dec. 14, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Health Services, COVID-19: Vaccine Phases and Eligibility, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

PolitiFact National, Fact-checking Joe Biden's claim that he was among the poorest in government, Oct. 30, 2019

Center for Responsive Politics, Net Worth, 2005, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

Center for Responsive Politics, Net Worth, 2006, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

Center for Responsive Politics, Net Worth, 2007, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

Center for Responsive Politics, Net Worth, 2008, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

Center for Responsive Politics, Joe Biden financial disclosure filings, 1995-2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, No, Joe Biden isn’t 'on board with defunding police,' Aug. 5, 2020

USA TODAY, Biden: We must urgently root out systemic racism, from policing to housing to opportunity, June 10, 2020

Joe Biden campaign website, The Biden plan for strengthening America’s commitment to justice, accessed Feb. 17, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Eric Litke

Fact-checking Biden's Milwaukee visit