FACT CHECK: Trump's 2019 State of the Union address

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Woman in the workforce
"All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before."

WASHINGTON -- The Associated Press and ABC News are fact-checking remarks from President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech. Here's a look at some of the claims we've examined:


TRUMP: "Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years."

THE FACTS: Trump exaggerated the length of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The invasion of Iraq was in March 2003. The U.S. has been at war for a bit more than 17 years.

Also, he refers to fighting in the Middle East. Iraq is in the Middle East, but Afghanistan is in south and central Asia.


TRUMP, describing progress over the last two years: "Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps."

THE FACTS: The number of people receiving food stamps actually hasn't declined that much.

Government data show there were 44.2 million people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program in 2016, before Trump took office. In 2018, there were 40.3 million people participating in SNAP. That's a decline of 3.9 million, not the 5 million that Trump talked about.

The number of people participating in the SNAP program peaked in 2013 and has been going down since that time.

Trump's last budget proposed cutting SNAP by $213 billion over 10 years. The administration also has been pushing to give states more flexibility in implementing the program, including tightening work requirements for recipients.


TRUMP: "These (border) agents will tell you where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down ... San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings ... Simply put, walls work and walls save lives."

THE FACTS: It's a lot more complicated than that.

Yes, Border Patrol arrests in the San Diego sector plummeted 96 percent from nearly 630,000 in 1986 to barely 26,000 in 2017, a period during which walls were built. But the crackdown pushed illegal crossings to less-patrolled and more remote Arizona deserts, where thousands died in the heat. Arrests in Tucson in 2000 nearly matched San Diego's peak.

Critics say the "water-balloon effect" - build a wall in one spot and migrants will find an opening elsewhere - undermines Trump's argument, though proponents say it only demonstrates that walls should be extended.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2017 that the U.S. has not developed metrics that demonstrate how barriers have contributed to border security.


TRUMP: "We recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods - and now our treasury is receiving billions of dollars."

THE FACTS: This is misleading. Yes, money from tariffs is going into the federal treasury, but it's largely coming from U.S. businesses and consumers. It's not foreign countries that are paying these import taxes by cutting a check to the government.

His reference to money coming into the treasury "now" belies the fact that tariffs go back to the founding of the country. This revenue did not start with his increased tariffs on some goods from China.

Tariffs did produce $41.3 billion in tax revenues in the last budget year, according to the Treasury Department. But that is a small fraction of a federal budget that exceeds $4.1 trillion.

The tariffs paid by U.S. companies also tend to result in higher prices for consumers, which is what happened for washing machines after the Trump administration imposed import taxes.


TRUMP: "Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement - or USMCA - will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers: bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with the four beautiful words: MADE IN THE USA."

THE FACTS: It's unlikely to do all those things, since the new agreement largely preserves the structure and substance of NAFTA.

In one new feature, the deal requires that 40 percent of cars' contents eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour - that is, in the United States, or Canada, but not in Mexico. It also requires Mexico to pursue an overhaul of labor law to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions for Mexicans.

Still, just before the agreement was signed, General Motors announced that it would lay off 14,000 workers and close five plants in the United States and Canada.

Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a trade official in Republican President George W. Bush's White House, says: "President Trump has seriously overhyped this agreement."


TRUMP: "We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs."

THE FACTS: 5.3 million jobs have been added since President Trump's election in November 2016, but he did not become president until January 20, 2017.

Nearly 4.9 million jobs have been created since February 2017, including 454,000 manufacturing jobs. The unemployment rate at 4 percent is at levels last seen in late 1999 and 2000. The uptick in the unemployment rate in the most recent jobs report was likely because of the government shutdown. The unemployment rate in November 2018 was 3.7 percent which was a level last seen in 1969, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

African American unemployment is at historic lows at 6.8 percent - but it has ticked up in recent months after hitting an all-time low of 6 percent toward the end of last year. Similarly, the Hispanic unemployment rate at 4.9 percent has ticked up from recent lows of 4.4 percent toward the end of last year.


TRUMP: "Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for, they're growing faster than anyone else thought possible."

THE FACTS: This is an unsupported statement because the data on hourly wages for private workers only goes back to 2006, not decades.

But data on wages for production workers date back to 1939 - and Trump's claim appears to be unfounded.

Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers are up 3.4 percent over the past year, according to the Labor Department. Those wage gains were higher as recently as early 2009. And they were averaging roughly 4 percent before the start of the Great Recession in late 2007.

There are other ways to track wage gains - and those don't work in Trump's favor, either.

Adjusted for inflation, median weekly wages rose just 0.6 percent in 2018. The gains in weekly wages were 2.1 percent in 2015.


TRUMP: "I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally."

THE FACTS: This is false. Trump has repeatedly sought to reduce the number of people legally allowed into the United States.

Last fall President Trump set the lowest cap in the history of the refugee admission program -- permitting only just 30,000 a year. In President Obama's last year he proposed a cap of 110,000 amid the height of the crisis in Syria. In fiscal year 2017 the Trump administration allowed the second fewest refugees ever.

Trump also won a battle in the Supreme Court to restrict all forms of travel and immigration from 7 countries, five of which have Muslim majority populations. Just last week, the administration began selectively enforcing a new policy at the southern border that requires migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their applications are processed. He has also called for the elimination of the diversity visa program, which typically awards up to 50,000 immigration visas each year.


TRUMP: "African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded."

THE FACTS: What he's not saying is that the unemployment rates for all three groups have gone up since reaching record low levels.

Black unemployment reached a record low, 5.9 percent, in May, but rose to 6.8 percent in January.

Latino unemployment fell to 4.4 percent, its lowest ever, last October, and Asian unemployment fell to a record low of 2.2 percent in May. But Latino and Asian unemployment also have increased, in part because of the government shutdown, which elevated unemployment last month.

The African-American rate is still nearly double the jobless rate for whites, at 3.5 percent.

The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under President Barack Obama, when it fell from a recession high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.


TRUMP: "As a result of my administration's efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years."

THE FACTS: This is mostly spin. While President Trump is correct that drug prices dropped in the last year - and that hasn't happened since 1972 - the drop was less than1 percent. Drug prices and spending remain at historically high levels - including for drugs like insulin, which more than doubled in price since 2012 - and many of Trump's efforts to bring down those costs haven't been enacted yet.

According to the Consumer Price Index, that dip is .62 percent looking at data collected from December 2017 to data from December 2018. Last fall, an Associated Press analysis examined the list prices for some 26,000 brand-name drugs and found 96 price hikes for every one price cut.

What Trump can point to in favor of consumers is an aggressive push by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during his administration to approve generic drugs. White House advisers in an October 2018 report estimated that the recent approval of generic drugs has resulted in $26 billion in savings for consumers that would have otherwise had to choose brand name drugs. Among those approved under Trump was the first generic version of EpiPen, the lifesaving auto injector used to treat emergency reactions. EpiPen injectors went from costing $100 in 2009 to $600 in 2016.

And while out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs remained mostly flat in 2017 - Trump's first year in office -- out-of-pocket physician and hospital costs increased.

Many of Trump's ideas to drive down drug costs haven't taken effect yet and are still winding their way through the rulemaking process. One proposal would upend the usual system of drug rebates when people buy prescription drugs through Medicare or Medicaid. The plan would prohibit drug makers from offering discounts or rebates to "pharmacy benefit managers" that administer drug plans. Instead, the manufacturers would be encouraged to provide rebates directly to consumers. Democrats pushed back, insisting they think the plan will raise costs for consumers.

Another proposal, announced last fall, is to limit what it pays for certain drugs for Medicare recipients by tying the price for some drugs to prices paid overseas. The measure, which would be phased in over several years, would only apply to certain types of drugs via Medicare that are administered by a physician. The drug industry fought back and said the administration was discouraging innovation.


TRUMP: "Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery."

THE FACTS: His administration has not supplied evidence that women and girls are smuggled by the "thousands" across remote areas of the border for these purposes. What has been established is nearly 80 percent of international trafficking victims cross through legal ports of entry, a flow that would not be stopped by a border wall.

Trump distorts how often trafficking victims come from the southern border, according the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, a global hub for trafficking statistics with data contributed by organizations from around the world.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, a venture supported by federal money and operated by the anti-trafficking group Polaris, began tracking individual victim records in 2015. From January through June 31, 2018, it tracked 35,000 potential victims. Of those, there was a near equal distribution between foreigners on one hand and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents on the other.

Most of the labor trafficking victims were foreign, and most of the sex trafficking victims were U.S. citizens. Of foreign nationals, Mexico had the most frequently trafficked.


TRUMP: "Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens."

THE FACTS: There is no national database that compares crimes committed by immigration status, making it difficult to confirm or dispute the president's assertions. What available studies do show is that overall, crime rates are lower among immigrant groups than they are among native-born Americans.

According to ICE data, over the past two years, there were nearly 4,000 arrests made for people both convicted of - and simply charged with -- homicide among immigrants released into ICE custody for deportation -- but the homicides could've been committed over any number of years.

More generally, the President's speech referenced 266,000 arrests of undocumented immigrants with criminal records over the past two years, a number that mainly includes immigrants who were convicted of crimes in the past, and perhaps served jail time before they were released into ICE custody.


TRUMP: "Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place."

THE FACTS: This is true. A government study has found that Medicare pays more for some drugs than other wealthy nations.

Last fall, the government released a study that found Medicare - the federally run health care program for seniors - paid more than other industrialized countries for physician-administered drugs. While the precise amount varied by product, the study found that prices charged by those manufacturers are 1.8 times higher in the U.S. than in other countries.

Trump has proposed that Medicare only agree to pay costs based on cheaper prices paid by other nations. It's one of several proposals he's made in recent months in a bid to drive down costs, although that proposal wouldn't take place for another year or so.

The drug industry had criticized the approach, contending that the money paid goes toward ground breaking research that benefits Americans first. According to one industry group, Americans have access to cancer medicines on average two years earlier than in countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Industry executives also say it's not fair to compare what the U.S. pays for drugs compared to people in countries with socialized health care systems.


TRUMP: "In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom - a boom that has rarely been seen before. There's been nothing like it. ... An economic miracle is taking place in the United States."

THE FACTS: The president is vastly exaggerating what has been a mild improvement in growth and hiring. The economy is healthy but not nearly one of the best in U.S. history.

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.8 percent last spring and summer, a solid pace. But it was just the fastest in four years. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached under Trump. And growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.

Almost all independent economists expect slower growth this year as the effects of the Trump administration's tax cuts fade, trade tensions and slower global growth hold back exports, and higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow to buy cars and homes.


TRUMP: "We passed a massive tax cut for working families and doubled the child tax credit."

THE FACTS: The president said that his tax plan provides tax cuts to working families and while that's true in the short term, multiple analyses found wealthier Americans and corporations will receive the largest benefit over the long term.

The GOP tax plan reduces taxes on average for all income groups initially, including middle-class Americans.

The average household will see a tax cut of $1,610 in 2019 according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Overall, most Americans -- eight in 10, according to the center -- will pay lower taxes this year.

But multiple independent analyses concluded that wealthier Americans and corporations will receive the largest benefit over the long term. "In general, higher-income households receive larger average tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income," the center found. "On average, in 2027 taxes would change little for lower- and middle-income groups and decrease for higher-income groups." Most of the individual income tax provisions will expire after 2025, unless Congress acts. The corporate tax rate cuts are permanent.


TRUMP, in prepared excerpts: "All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before."

THE FACTS: Of course, there are more women working than ever before. But that's due to population growth - and not something that Trump can credit to any of his policies.

The big question is whether a greater percentage of women are working or searching for a job than at any point in history. And on this count, women have enjoyed better times.

Women's labor force participation rate right now is 57.5 percent, according to the Labor Department. The rate has ticked up recently, but it was higher in 2012 and peaked in 2000 at roughly 60 percent.


TRUMP, in prepared excerpts: "We have unleashed a revolution in American energy - the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world."

THE FACTS: True, if "we" means Trump and his recent predecessors. It's not all to Trump's credit. The government says the U.S. became the world's top natural gas producer in 2013, under Barack Obama's administration.

The U.S. now leads the world in oil production, too, under Trump. That's largely because of a boom in production from shale oil, which also began under Obama.

ABC News contributed to this report