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While presidential speeches to the United Nations usually focus on foreign policy, President Donald Trump began his by touting domestic accomplishments on his watch.
"Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last Nov. 8," he said while addressing the General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017. "The stock market is at an all-time high, a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time."
We decided to check his assertion that "companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time."
We found that Trump exaggerated the job growth (it's not unprecedented), but there is some truth to his point about companies moving back to the country.
The most obvious way to look at this claim is to look at recent job growth rates. So we looked up month-to-month increases in jobs since 2011 -- the point at which the national economy started gaining jobs consistently after the Great Recession.
The monthly gains in red -- those since Trump became president -- don’t look much different from the types of gains seen under President Barack Obama starting in 2011. The highest monthly job gain under Trump -- 232,000 -- was exceeded in 28 separate months on Obama’s watch.
Next, we looked at the specific job gains under Trump from February 2017 to August 2017. We compared that period to the February-to-August job gains under Obama between 2011 and 2016. Here’s what we found:
This chart shows that the job gains under Trump were actually lower than each of the last six years of February-to-August job gains for Obama, except for one year -- 2012.
This shouldn’t suggest that the pace of job creation this year is a disappointment. While one would expect big job gains in the immediate aftermath of a major recession as the economy catches up, seeing substantial gains this many years after the recession officially ended is far from guaranteed.
In reality, August 2017 represented the 83rd successive month of month-to-month job gains -- easily a record. The longest previous spell of positive increases in monthly payroll employment was 48, in the period ending in June 1990, said Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
"It is surprising how long (strong job growth) has continued," said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist.
At the same time, she added, "it's also disappointing that the gain in jobs hasn't also been accompanied by strong wages and productivity growth."
Another way of looking a Trump’s statement is not in terms of record overall job growth, but specifically about jobs created by companies moving their operations to the United States.
Here, he has a stronger point.
A group called the Reshoring Initiative has been collecting data since 2010 on "reshoring" -- a combination of U.S. firms bringing jobs back to the U.S., and foreign companies deciding to locate jobs here.
Publicly, the group released data in May 2017 showing that "for the first time in decades, more manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States than are going offshore." Specifically, the group found a record-high 77,000 reshored jobs in 2016, bringing the total since 2010 to 338,000.
Those gains, of course, took place under Barack Obama. But while the group hasn’t officially published data covering the period since Trump took office, we asked the group for their latest data, covering Trump’s time in office.
According to the group, reshoring started going up substantially beginning in the fourth quarter of 2016 and has accelerated in 2017.
Between 2013 and 2015, the average number of reshored jobs announced per quarter was about 17,000, Harry C. Moser, the Kildeer, Ill., group’s founder and president, told PolitiFact. Then, during the first three quarters of 2016, that number fell to an average of 12,000.
Then it picked up. In the fourth quarter of 2016, it almost doubled to 22,000. In the first quarter of 2017, it almost doubled again to 40,000. And the preliminary number for the second quarter of 2017 is even higher, at 50,000.
When we asked Moser if he had an explanation for such increases, he offered two, based on his discussions with company executives. One is a more favorable exchange rate for the U.S. dollar. The other is the expectation among businesses that Trump would cut taxes and regulation, and that he might erect tariffs or otherwise punish goods produced overseas.
"You can never be sure, but in my professional opinion, a significant portion of the increase comes from the expectation of good things (from Trump) and a fear of bad things (from him)," Moser said.
The corollary, he added, is that if Trump fails to deliver on these promises, those reshored jobs could evaporate.
As we noted, these numbers haven’t been publicly released. So did Trump just happen to guess correctly in this case? Maybe not. Moser said he’d sent this data to the White House "through different channels, such as congressmen and semi-confidants, about eight times."
So the reshoring data could have been what Trump was referring to. But the White House didn’t confirm to us that this is the interpretation he’d intended.
A final point. When checking statements like this, we usually note that presidential actions do not necessarily have much of an impact on job numbers, which are often driven by broader factors, such as international economic conditions and technological change.
However, in this case, an independent source has indicated that Trump’s promises -- rather than actual policies he delivered -- are what drove the companies to locate jobs in the United States. So for the purposes of judging this claim, it’s not unreasonable to say that Trump deserves some credit.
Trump said, "Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time."
Overall, job growth is strong, particularly this long after the recession, but the gains are not much different (and maybe a little worse) than they were during the last six years of Obama’s tenure.
However, there is evidence that the number of jobs specifically caused by "companies moving back" has increased under Trump, and one reason for this may be Trump’s promises, both of the carrot and stick variety. On balance, we rate the statement Half True.
Donald Trump, speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 19, 2017
Bureau of Labor Statistics, one month net change in employment, accessed Sept. 19, 2017
Reshoring Initiative, "Reshoring Initiative 2016 Data Report," May 15, 2017
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, George Washington University economist, Sept. 19, 2017
Email interview with Gary Burtless, Brookings Institution economist, Sept. 19, 2017
Email interview with Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.com, Sept. 19, 2017
Email interview with Harry C. Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, Sept. 19, 2017
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