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Hiring signs outside a gas station in Butler County, Pa., on May 5, 2021. (AP) Hiring signs outside a gas station in Butler County, Pa., on May 5, 2021. (AP)

Hiring signs outside a gas station in Butler County, Pa., on May 5, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 26, 2021
Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde May 26, 2021

Social media post exaggerates economic statistics

If Your Time is short

• Prices for gasoline and consumer products are spiking as a result of the post-pandemic economic recovery. However, they are not at the historical levels cited in the post. 

• While the April 2021 jobs report was disappointing, it’s far from the worst ever.  

• The claim of illegal immigration being at record highs is at best speculative, with final numbers not known until this fall.

A recent Facebook post seeks to convince readers that the United States has fallen apart since President Joe Biden took office. 

The post, featuring Bugs Bunny wearing a tuxedo, says, "Gas prices highest in a decade. Worst jobs report in 2 decades. Highest inflation in 3 decades. Highest increase in illegal immigration in 4 decades. Y’all killed it with your emotional voting skills."

(Screengrab from Facebook)
 
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post combines bits of accuracy with misdirection, neglecting to mention market forces beyond a president’s control. Here’s a look at each of the four claims.

"Gas prices highest in a decade"

This claim is exaggerated.

In late May, the average gallon of unleaded gas cost $3.11. For almost four years in the last decade — between 2011 and 2014 — gasoline prices were higher than they are now. Still, the current cost is the highest level since October 2014. 

 

That’s not the highest in a decade, as the post says, but it’s the highest in a fairly long period — six and a half years. 

As we’ve reported, gas prices have been steadily rising since they bottomed out at $1.87 in late April 2020. They’ve risen by about two-thirds in more than a year — but the upswing took place over both the Trump and Biden administrations.

In general, a president has limited control over the weekly and monthly shifts in gasoline prices. On a short-time horizon, experts say, gas prices depend mostly on global supply and demand. 

On the supply side, the OPEC oil cartel and Russia have made voluntary production cuts, which has the effect of raising prices, said Mark Finley, a fellow at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

But the biggest factor in the recent price spike has been the slow but steady economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

When the pandemic began in the first quarter of 2020, the price of oil fell off a cliff. That reflected a plunge in demand: The pandemic shut down some major industries for weeks, and sharply curbed the ability of people to travel (in airplanes) and commute to jobs (in cars). Crude oil prices closely track the price at the pump.

What the pandemic took away, however, the recovery has begun to put back.

"The coronavirus numbers in every state are moving in the right direction," De Haan said. "We’re now seeing the highest demand since the pandemic started. And now that demand is up, and oil production is not, that has pushed oil prices up."

"Worst jobs report in 2 decades"

This is far off-base.

The most recent monthly jobs report for April, showing a gain of 266,000 jobs, was considered a disappointment, since the receding pandemic was presumed to be capable of higher job-growth potential. The gain fell well short of what economists had expected.

But disappointment over statistical projections does not mean that a gain of 266,000 jobs is the "worst jobs report in 2 decades."

One need look no further than the loss of more than 20 million jobs recorded exactly a year earlier, when sudden business closures due to the pandemic produced a historically rapid fall-off in employment.

 

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Even disregarding the unique economic conditions of April 2020, however, the gain of 266,000 jobs in April 2021 was nowhere close to the worst performance in two decades. There were gains of only five digits in 10 months during that period, for instance.

In fact, prior to the pandemic, Trump saw increases this large only three times.

 

As with gas prices, presidents are not all-powerful in job creation or reduction. Economic developments beyond their direct control usually have a bigger impact than specific policies.

"Highest inflation in 3 decades"

Inflation is spiking, but this claim is exaggerated, too.

On May 12, the government announced that the consumer price index was 4.2% higher in April 2021 than a year earlier. That’s the fastest increase since September 2008, nearly 13 years ago — not 30 years ago, as the claim suggests.

 

It’s also important to put this inflation spike in context. For starters, it’s nowhere near a record: Inflation peaked at 13.5% in 1980

Economists say the current spike is largely driven by supply disruptions, as consumer demand rebounds from the worst of the pandemic. 

It’s also notable that some of the biggest increases are in particular commodities, such as plywood, which is used in home construction and remodeling. Mills that shut down or reduced production during the throes of the pandemic in 2020 still haven’t caught up to increased demand, said Jennifer Coskren, an economist and wood products expert. And food prices are up due to a combination of higher fuel prices and trucker shortages.

Outside the most volatile sectors, the so-called "core rate" of inflation was more modest in April, at just 3%. It’s also worth noting that the current inflation measures are skewed by the year-over-year comparison with April 2020, when the pandemic all but shuttered the economy and depressed prices across the board.

All in all, economists told PolitiFact that inflation bears watching as the economy reheats, but they added that it would be presumptuous to suggest that inflation will spiral out of control, as opposed to easing once supply-chain disruptions are ironed out.

"Highest increase in illegal immigration in 4 decades"

Over the last 40 years, the highest number of southwest border apprehensions happened in 2000, when agents recorded about 1.6 million apprehensions.

Apprehensions haven’t been that high since then, but there’s no doubt that 2021 encounters are on the rise. 

So far in fiscal year 2021, Border Patrol agents have recorded about 725,000 encounters with migrants at the southwest border (most encounters resulted in expulsions). The fiscal year began October 2020 and ends in September. So 2021 data includes about four months of the Trump administration.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said that the U.S. is "on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years." 

It’s worth keeping in mind that Border Patrol data tracks events, not people. If a person tries to cross the border three times in a one month and is expelled each time, Border Patrol records three expulsions.

Overall, illegal immigration is up, but it’s too soon to tell if it will set some kind of record. 

Our ruling

The post said, "Gas prices highest in a decade. Worst jobs report in 2 decades. Highest inflation in 3 decades. Highest increase in illegal immigration in 4 decades."

Prices for gasoline and for consumer products more generally are indeed spiking as a result of the post-pandemic economic recovery, but not at the historical levels cited in the post. While the April 2021 jobs report was disappointing compared to advance projections, it’s far from the worst ever. By one metric, the immigration claim is plausible, though final numbers won’t be known until this fall.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

RELATED: No, it isn’t clear that unemployment checks are the main reason jobs go unfilled

CORRECTION,  May 27, 2021: The text has been updated to correct the figure for jobs lost in April 2020, from 20,000 to 20 million. The 20 million figure only strengthens the argument that April 2021 didn’t see the "worst jobs report in 2 decades." The rating remains the same.

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Social media post exaggerates economic statistics

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