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During a May 10, 2011, speech at a Democratic National Committee event in Austin, Texas, President Barack Obama offered a litany of accomplishments to a friendly audience.
"We passed equal pay for equal work legislation," Obama said. "We made the largest investment in education in our history, but didn’t just put more money in, initiating unprecedented reforms that are having ramifications all across the country. We made the largest investment in clean energy in our history and have created entire new industries, like the advanced battery manufacturing industry here in the United States of America, where we look like we'll have close to a 40-percent share of the market in the next few years. Doubled our exports. Ended a war, as promised, and are working another war in a place where we're going to start drawing down our troops this year and are in a position to help Afghans secure their own country."
The claim that immediately caught our eye was that during Obama’s presidency, the United States has "doubled our exports." So we decided to take a look.
We turned to the U.S. Census Bureau, which produces monthly statistical tables on trade. One table offers data that begins in January 2009 -- when Obama was inaugurated -- and ends in March 2011. It shows imports and exports on a monthly, annual and year-to-date basis, all of them seasonally adjusted.
Here are a few ways to slice and dice the numbers.
Most recent month compared to January 2009: In January 2009, exports of goods and services were $125.5 billion. For March 2011, that number was $172.7 billion -- a 38 percent increase.
Most recent month compared to the equivalent month in 2009: In March 2009, exports totaled $126 billion. For March 2011, that number was $172.7 billion -- a 37 percent increase.
First quarter of 2011 compared to first quarter of 2009: In the first quarter of 2009, exports were $378.4 billion. For the first quarter of 2011, exports were $505.2 billion -- a 34 percent increase.
Extrapolated amount for all of 2011 compared to the actual amount from all of 2009: For all of 2009, exports totaled $1.571 trillion. Multiplying the first-quarter 2011 results by four produces a full-year projection of $2.021 trillion for 2011 -- a 29 percent increase.
All told, then, the data show an increase in exports of about one-third from the baseline Obama inherited -- not double.
This isn’t the first time Obama has spoken of doubling exports. In his 2011 State of the Union address, he said, "To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up."
But Bryan Riley, a senior trade policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, noted that the president hasn’t met the goal yet. "Exports are up but have not doubled," Riley said.
When we presented the data to the White House, a spokesman did not dispute our numbers. "The president is committed to doubling our exports within five years and we have already made substantial progress toward that goal," said White House spokesman Adam Abrams.
So Obama was getting ahead of the facts when he said that the United States has doubled its exports. That’s the goal, and progress toward it is being made. The doubling hasn’t happened yet. So we rate his statement False.
Barack Obama, remarks at a Democratic National Committee event in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2011
U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, Seasonally Adjusted," accessed May 11, 2011
Barack Obama, text of the 2011 State of the Union address, Jan. 25, 2011
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, "Table 1: U.S. International Transactions," revised on March 16, 2011
E-mail interview with Bryan Riley, senior trade policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, May 11, 2011
E-mail interview with Adam Abrams, White House spokesman, May 11, 2011
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