President Joe Biden has spoken regularly about the economy in the past month — trying at once to reassure Americans about inflation, draw attention to job growth and earn support for his signature infrastructure and social spending proposals.
In an economic speech last week, Biden made a series of comments about the unemployment rate. “We’ve made historic progress over the last 10 months. Unemployment is down to 4.6%, two years faster than everyone expected. When we started at this job, it was over 14%,” Biden said.
Facts First: Biden was wrong in two ways here. First and most importantly, his phrasing created the inaccurate impression that the unemployment rate was over 14% when he “started at this job” as president. In fact, the unemployment rate in January 2021, the month he was sworn in, was 6.3%; it had not been above 14% since April 2020. Second, while the unemployment rate has fallen faster under Biden than some experts had expected, he exaggerated when he said the 4.6% rate was achieved two years faster than “everyone” expected. It happened roughly one year faster than the Federal Reserve had projected in December 2020.
Biden strongly suggested that all of the “historic progress” in bringing the unemployment rate down from more than 14% to 4.6% happened “over the last 10 months,” the period in which he has been in office. But the majority of the decline occurred during the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The unemployment rate spiked under Trump on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, jumping from 3.5% in February 2020 to a pandemic-era peak of 14.8% in April 2020. Then the rate started falling, hitting 6.3% in January 2021. So far, through October, it has fallen another 1.7 percentage points during Biden’s tenure.
A White House official, who responded to CNN’s questions on condition of anonymity, said that when Biden spoke about unemployment being above 14% “when we started at this job,” he was referring to the peak of the pandemic, not the start of his presidency. But this section of Biden’s speech was focused on the achievements of his administration over the past 10 months. He certainly didn’t make it clear that, for this particular claim, he was reaching back to a starting point during the last year of the Trump era.