President Obama promised a touch of optimism for his fifth State of the Union address, but Tuesday night he was a bit too positive about his record of accomplishment.
Right from his opening line, the president cherry-picked the rosiest of statistics that didn’t always reflect the reality of his record even as the economy finally creaks back to life.
For instance, the president hailed the “8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.” But the president has been in office for five years and the figure he used was a gross number that ignores the effect of continued job erosion, especially from the early part of his presidency.
In fact, the net gain of jobs on Mr. Obama’s watch is 3.25 million, according to the website FactCheck.org, and the number of Americans who are jobless still stands above 10 million, including 3.9 million who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, known as the long-term unemployed.
Many more Americans are no longer seeking jobs and have fallen from the count. CNNMoney recently reported that only 62.8 percent of the adult population is participating in the labor market, the lowest percentage since 1978 when Jimmy Carter was president.
The president gave a more accurate description of the economic troubles on Main Street when he acknowledged that “average wages have barely budged” on his watch.
From 2008 to 2012, the average wage for workers rose from 1 percent to 1.7 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to the fact-checking website PolitiFact.
The president also made a proposal he portrayed as dramatic, using his executive powers to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. But the fact is the proposal won’t affect many workers.
Most employees of federal contractors already earn more than $10.10. About 10 percent of those workers, roughly 200,000, might be covered by the higher minimum wage. But there are several wrinkles, according to The Associated Press. The increase would not take effect until 2015 at the earliest, and it wouldn’t apply to existing federal contracts, only new ones. Renewed contracts also will be exempt from Obama’s order unless other terms of the agreement change, such as the type of work or number of employees needed.
Obama also said he will press Congress to raise the federal minimum wage overall. He tried that last year, seeking a $9 minimum, but Congress didn’t act.
The president also hailed the growth of oil and natural gas development on his watch, but the government can’t take much credit for that growth, either.
Much of that growth has occurred on private lands, not federal lands, and the drilling industry has complained the administration has been slow to embrace the opportunities unleashed by the fracking revolution because it has been so focused on funding the growth of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
Mr. Obama also attracted the fact-checkers’ notice with his promise to “protect” more than 3 million transportation and waterways works projects by slashing bureaucracy and streamlining the permitting process.
Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, told AP that bureaucratic red tape was far less of a problem than the lack of budget dollars to fund projects. The federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money this summer, and Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes of U.S. corporate overseas operations as a way to finance infrastructure programs has made little headway on Capitol Hill.
“The reason most of these projects are delayed is they don’t have enough money,” said Mr. Schank. “So it’s great that you are expediting the review process, but the review process isn’t the problem.”
Mr. Obama’s claims about economic inequality — a central theme of his speech — do not jibe with the latest research. Pitching plans to aid the middle class, the president declared, “Inequality has deepened, upward mobility has stalled.”
But data from a team led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty this month concluded that rates of social mobility in the United States are basically unchanged since the early 1970s.
On foreign policy, Mr. Obama’s claim that American diplomacy had “halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program” has been challenged from an unusual source — the Iranian government itself. Iran’s top diplomat has rejected U.S. claims that Tehran has agreed to stop enriching uranium as it tries to negotiate a long-term agreement.
“We did not agree to dismantle anything,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN in an interview, calling into question whether or not American and Iranian leaders are on the same page when it comes to the arms agreements.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.