The dark portrait of America that Donald Trump sketched in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is a compendium of doomsday statistics that fall apart upon close scrutiny.
Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.
When facts are inconveniently positive – such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 per cent – Trump simply declines to mention them.
He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality the violent crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.
In his speech, Trump promised to present “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper”.
But he relies on statistics that are ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources.
Here is a rundown of some of Trump’s key claims – and how they differ from reality – arranged by subject.
“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 per cent, compared to this point last year.”
This is wrong. The number of law enforcement officers killed on the job has increased 8 per cent compared to this point in 2015.
Moreover, the overall number of police deaths has decreased in the past two decades. For the past 10 to 15 years, traffic-related incidents (including pursuits and instances in which officers are intentionally struck) have been the leading cause of death among police officers.
Overall, police are statistically safer on America’s streets now than at any time in recent decades. For example, the 109 law enforcement fatalities in 2013 were the lowest since 1956.
“Homicides last year increased by 17 per cent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 per cent. They are up nearly 60 per cent in nearby Baltimore.”
Trump cherry-picks data to paint an alarming picture of homicide trends, when in reality, the homicide rate has been declining for decades.
In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the nation’s 50 largest cities. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 per cent over 2014, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 per cent in Washington, and 58.5 per cent in Baltimore.
But the percentage increase was large because the number of homicides in 2014 was relatively small. Meanwhile, homicide trends have been split in the major cities so far this year: Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in the first quarter of 2016, and 31 cities saw an increase.
“Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
This number sounds much worse than it really is. In fiscal 2015, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly 140,000 convicted criminals, but ICE has estimated that nearly 1 million non-citizens with final deportation orders remain in the United States.
Of those, 182,786 have been convicted of crimes, and about 6000 have been detained.
The actual crimes committed by this group are not documented, however, so Trump cannot easily claim that all of these illegal immigrants “threaten peaceful citizens”. A significant percentage of their crimes involve immigration violations and non-violent offences, according to historical records.
“The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”
This is another cherry-picked number. From October to June, just over 50,000 families were apprehended at the south-western border, up from about 40,000 in all of the previous fiscal year, according to US Customs and Border Protection. But overall apprehensions, including of unaccompanied minors, are running only slightly higher than in 2015 and remain far less than in 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Many of the Central American families arriving at the US-Mexico border are being allowed into the country pending review of their cases in immigration court. If they are being released, it is typically because they have requested asylum because they are fleeing extreme violence, instability and endemic poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Furthermore, the pace of releasing immigrants is driven not by the Obama administration, but by a court ruling. A federal judge ruled last year that the government couldn’t hold parents and children in jail for more than 20 days. An appeals court partially rolled that back earlier this month, saying that parents could be detained but children must be released.
“Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers.”
This claim is quite convoluted.
First, Trump makes no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. The flow of legal immigrants has increased over the past four decades, stabilising at roughly 1 million people obtaining lawful permanent resident status every year since 2001.
The unauthorised immigrant population increased from about 4 million in 1990 to about 12 million in 2007. But researchers estimate that the number of illegal immigrants has been essentially stable since then because of the large number of unauthorised immigrants who left the country during and after the Great Recession of 2008.
In general, economists have found that immigration benefits the US economy and most workers. The slight negative effects are felt most strongly by less-educated and low-skilled workers.
“America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”
The US tax burden is actually the fourth lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 per cent of the total US economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 per cent, Britain’s (32.6 per cent) or Germany’s (36.1 per cent). Only three OECD members had a lower figure than the US: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.
“Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office.”
Trump is being misleading here, turning a good news story into something negative.
From March 2009 to March 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the number of Latinos in poverty increased by 750,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau. But the overall number of the Latinos grew by nearly 7 million. So the percentage of Latinos living in poverty declined from 25.3 per cent to 23.6 per cent.
“Household incomes are down more than $4000 since the year 2000 – 16 years ago.”
This is a stale statistic, based on 2014 Census data, which ignores the fact that incomes have risen sharply in the past two years.
A more up-to-date figure comes from the non-partisan economic consulting firm Sentier Research, which produces a monthly report using data from the Census Bureau’s monthly household survey.
The most recent report, released on Thursday, hours before Trump’s speech, shows median annual household income was $US57,206 in June, down slightly from January 2000, when it was $US57,826 in 2016 dollars. So household income is essentially flat, not down $US4000.
“Forty-three million Americans are on food stamps.”
Trump’s point is that America’s economy has suffered under the Obama administration. But he fails to mention that this is the lowest number of people receiving food stamps since the program reached its peak in 2013, a sign that the economy is finally improving enough to help the desperately poor families who depend on it.
“Fifty-eight per cent of African-American youth are not employed.”
The official unemployment rate for black youth is about half of what Trump says it is.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among blacks 16 to 19 years old was 31.2 per cent in June. This official unemployment rate refers to people who are actively looking for work, as a percentage of the total available workforce.
“Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.”
This is misleading for three reasons: The US population has increased in that time; the country has aged and people have retired; and younger people are staying in school longer for college and advanced degrees, so they’re not in the labour force, either.
The number of people who have left the workforce has certainly increased since 2009, though this is usually expressed as a decline in the labour participation rate, which is the portion of people older than 16 who are employed or actively seeking employment. The labour participation rate has dropped under Barack Obama, from 65.7 per cent in 2009 to 62.7 per cent.
However, experts say about half of the decline in the labour participation rate since 1999 is due to the retirement of the baby boomers. Economists estimate just 15 per cent of the drop in the labour force involves people who want a job and are of prime working age (25 to 54).
“America has lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
Trump picks a high point for manufacturing jobs, in Bill Clinton’s second term. He also ignores the fact that the economy has added nearly a million manufacturing jobs since 2010, the low point after the Great Recession of 2008.
It is simplistic to pin blame for the decline in manufacturing jobs on trade agreements. Increased efficiency and technological advancement have also played a major role.