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During a June 28 visit to Mount Pleasant, Wis. -- the site of a planned Foxconn manufacturing facility -- President Donald Trump touted his economic record, including the growth of the nation’s gross domestic product, which measures the size of the economy.
"Watch those GDP numbers," Trump said. "We started off at a very low number, and right now we hit a 3.2," or 3.2 percentage growth compared to the last quarter on an annualized basis. "Nobody thought that was possible."
This statement includes both factual inaccuracies and an apparent misunderstanding of the statistical measurement Trump is citing.
Here is a chart showing the quarter-by-quarter growth in gross domestic product since 2008. The red bars indicate the tenure of Republican presidents George W. Bush and Trump, while the blue bars indicate the tenure of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Trump’s first problem is a straightforward factual inaccuracy. He said that "right now," growth was 3.2 percent. However, the most recent growth number, for the first quarter of 2018, wasn’t 3.2 percent. It was considerably lower, at 2.0 percent. (The next growth number, for the second quarter of 2018, won’t be available for several more weeks.)
On Trump’s watch, the U.S. did see one quarter of 3.2 percent growth -- the third quarter of 2017. By now, that data point is three quarters old.
Arguably, the bigger problem with Trump’s assertion is the idea that "nobody thought that was possible." Here, Trump is confusing 3 percent growth during a single quarter with 3 percent growth sustained over an entire year.
Due to normal variations in the economy, meeting the 3 percent threshold for a quarter is not uncommon. But it has been almost a decade and a half since the U.S. economy grew at a 3 percent pace over an entire year.
As the chart shows, the last time the economy as a whole grew at 3 percent for an entire year was in 2005, when it grew at 3.3 percent.
"Economists do not expect a consistent 3 percent annual growth from the U.S. economy given our demographics and our current productivity numbers," said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist. (Read our more detailed explanation of economists’ reasoning.)
By contrast, quarterly increases of 3 percent are not rare -- in fact, they happened eight times under Obama, including levels Trump has not yet reached, such as 4.6 percent (twice) and 5.2 percent (once).
The one caveat to keep in mind is that Trump’s task in expanding GDP rapidly is harder than it was for Obama, said Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist. That’s because the recovery has been going for so long -- since June 2009 -- that the economy has less "slack" in it that could feed quick growth.
"Experience shows that it is easier to see quarters with relatively rapid real GDP growth when the economy can grow both because of a growing working-age population and rising productivity and because many of the involuntarily unemployed are finding jobs," Burtless said.
Trump said, "Watch those GDP numbers. We started off at a very low number, and right now we hit a 3.2 (percent). Nobody thought that was possible."
This is inaccurate two ways. First, the most recent saw GDP growth of 2.0 percent, not 3.2 percent. And second, exceeding 3 percent GDP growth in a quarter is not an unusual achievement -- Obama accomplished it eight times. The real achievement would be a full year at 3 percent, which hasn’t happened under Trump yet.
We rate the statement False.
Donald Trump, remarks in Mount Pleasant, Wis., June 28, 2018
Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 1.1.1, accessed June 29, 2018
PolitiFact, "Why economists are skeptical that U.S. can grow by 3 percent," May 26, 2017
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, George Washington University economist, June 29, 2018
Email interview with Gary Burtless, Brookings Institution senior fellow, June 29, 2018
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