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VERIFY: Fact-checking Trump's 2020 State of the Union address and the Democratic response

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked President Trump's State of the Union and the Democratic response.

WASHINGTON — President Trump gave his State of the Union address to the American people and a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

Following Trump's address, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar delivered the Democratic response.

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked the claims and statements from both in real time:

CLAIM: “In 8 years under the last administration, over 300,000 working-age people DROPPED OUT of the workforce. In just three years of my administration, 3.5 MILLION working-age people have JOINED the workforce.”

This claim is true, but needs context.

The number of people currently in the workforce is reflected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Labor Force Participation rate.” The labor force participation rate is the portion of the entire civilian population age 16 and older that is either employed or currently looking for work in the last four weeks. During President Obama’s two terms in office, the rate dropped from a high of 65.7 to 62.7 by the end of his terms. Since President Trump took office, the rate has grown from 62.8 percent to 63.2 percent. That comes out to roughly 3.7 million more people joining the workforce since President Trump took office. It’s worth noting that it’s not known whether the decrease under President Obama was actually due to people “dropping out” of the workforce as Trump claimed. At the time, the Obama administration attributed the decrease to retiring post- World War II Baby Boomers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics “Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate”

- Jason Puckett 

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CLAIM: “The unemployment rate is the lowest in over half a century.”

This claim is true.

Currently, the last recorded unemployment rate-- December 2019-- was at 3.5%. The last time the unemployment rate was 3.5% or lower was in December 1969, 50 years ago. 

Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

- Eliana Block

CLAIM: "The median household income is now at the highest rate ever."

This claim is true.

The U.S. Census has been tracking median household income since 1984. In 2018, the last year recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, household median income was at $63,179, the highest number recorded. Some private company studies say that in June 2019 the median household income was $64,430. However, the Census Bureau hasn’t put out official numbers for 2019 yet.

Source: United States Census Bureau, Table H-8, Median Household Income by State 

- Eliana Block

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CLAIM: “As a result of our unprecedented efforts, illegal crossings are down 75 percent since May -- dropping eight straight months in a row.”

So far, this claim is true but one month of data is not yet public.

The VERIFY Team took a look at data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency broke down the total number of border apprehensions on the southwest border on a monthly basis. The data demonstrates that the apprehensions peaked in May, 2019, when it skyrocketed to 144,116 apprehensions. According to the data, these arrests have dropped every single month since, and reached 40,620 in December, 2019. The data for January, 2020, has not yet been released to the public by CBP. If the number of apprehensions drop in January, this would in fact be eight straight months.
The drop from May, 2019 to December, 2019 is a reduction of roughly 72 percent.

Source: Customs and Border Protection

- Evan Koslof

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CLAIM: In the Democratic response, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said that more than 275 bipartisan bills sit on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

This is true, but requires context. 

For this one, it really comes down to what your definition is of bipartisan.

This claim has been made by Democrats before and in one previous press release they cited 13 bipartisan bills stalled in the Senate. The bills they posted all had Republican votes in the house, but the number of Republican votes varied. Eight Republicans voted for one of these bipartisan bills, the Equality Act, and 173 voted against it. The Save the Internet Act, which was cited as a bipartisan bill, had one Republican vote for it. 

So yes, there are bills with both Republican and Democrat support stalled in the Senate. However, the extent of that bipartisan support varies.

Sources: House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, Congress.gov roll calls, HR 1644 roll call

CLAIM: “Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.”

This claim is true but needs context.

“Food stamps” refers to the U.S Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Data from SNAP shows that there are roughly six or seven million less people on the SNAP program than there were before President Trump took office. The number varies depending on if the count starts in January, 2017 when Trump took office, or look a few months earlier when they were at their recent peak. As for the total of 10 million lifted off welfare, that number is harder to pin down directly. President Trump didn’t specify which welfare programs he was referring to. SNAP food stamps saw a roughly seven million decrease and
Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance saw a roughly 4.7 million person decrease. Depending on the month, those two programs combined could come out near Trump’s statement. It’s worth noting that some of the decrease on these programs came from changes to the SNAP program and the qualifications. Not all seven million people can be definitively said to have stopped needing food stamps.

Source: SNAP Monthly data 

- Jason Puckett

CLAIM: President Trump claimed that America has gained 12,000 new factories under his administration after losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations.

This claim is true.

The Bureau of Labor tracks the number of manufacturing establishments from quarter to quarter. The United States had 398,837 such establishments at the start of George W. Bush’s presidency in 2001 and 343,972 manufacturing establishments at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2017. That’s a drop of 54,865. The preliminary data for the second quarter of 2019, the most recent dataset the Bureau of Labor offers, says there are now 356,046 manufacturing establishments. That’s an increase of 12,074 since 2017. For some additional context, the United States saw a drop of 45,194 manufacturing establishments during the duration of Bush’s presidency and a loss of 9,671 during Obama’s presidency. The low was in the first quarter of 2013 when the number dipped to 333,565.

Source: Bureau of Labor

- TJ Spry

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CLAIM: "Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, by far."

This claim is misleading.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. has been the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world since 2013 when the U.S. surpassed both Russia and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. took the number one spot before the Trump administration took office. 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

- Marcelino Benito

CLAIM: "Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage earners has increased by 47 percent, three times faster than the increase for the top one percent." 

It is verified that the net worth has increased three times faster than the top one percent. Trump’s actually low on the increase to the bottom 50 percent and the difference between the two numbers.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the net worth of the bottom half of the population was 1,070,183 millions of dollars at the start of 2017. As of the third quarter of 2019, it was 1,668,034. That’s an increase of 55.86 percent, higher than the 47 percent Trump cited. For the top one percent, their net worth was 29,955,829 millions of dollars. In the third quarter of 2019, it was 34,533,370. That’s an increase of 15.28 percent, making the increase for the bottom half of Americans more than 3.5 times the increase for the top half. 

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data here and here.

- TJ Spry

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CLAIM: "I have raised contributions from the other NATO members by more than $400 billion, and the number of allies meeting their minimum obligations has more than doubled." 

This claim is based on estimates and needs context.

According to NATO’s spending forecast, NATO Europe and Canada are expected to raise defense spending by a cumulative $400 billion US dollars by 2024 to meet the 2 percent of GDP obligations – though those obligations were agreed to in 2014. As far as the number of allies meeting their minimum obligations
doubling, here are the facts: In 2017, just four countries met that threshold of minimum obligations (2 percent of the country’s GDP). NATO is still working to finalize numbers, but estimates nine countries will do so in 2019. In 2018, only seven countries met that threshold.

Source: NATO

- Max Marcilla, Sarah Gahagan and Jordan Fischer

CLAIM: "Last year, our brave ICE officers arrested more than 120,000 criminal aliens charged with nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults and 2,000 murders." 

This claim is true.

The Department of Homeland Security reported the same data for 2019. 

Source: ICE

- Polly Smith

CLAIM: "Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed."

This claim is true. 

In March 2019, U.S.-backed forces in Syria captured the Islamic State's last physical territory. At the end of 2016, the Islamic State held about 37,530 square miles in Iraq and Syria, according to IHS Markit. By December of 2017, ISIS had lost 95 percent of its territory. According to reporting by the New York Times, however, some, 18,000 ISIS fighters still remain active in Iraq and Syria.  

Sources: IHS Markit, The Wilson Center, The White House

- Mia Salenetri

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CLAIM: "In the last three years, ICE has arrested over 5,000 wicked human traffickers." 

This claim is true.

According to data from ICE and the State Department, ICE has made 5,387 human trafficking arrests.

Sources: ICE data here and here and the U.S. Department of State

- Max Marcilla

CLAIM: "Since 2016, the violent crime rate in America has fallen nearly 5 percent after rising each of the two years before President Trump took office."

This claim is true.

According to FBI crime databases, the violent crime rate increased from 2014 to 2015 and from 2015 to 2016. The violent crime rate has decreased every year since 2016. We can verify that there was a 4.5 percent decrease from 2016 to 2018, and preliminary 2019 numbers show a further decrease.

Source: FBI data here and here

- Mia Salenetri

CLAIM: "We have now completed over 100 miles and will have over 500 miles fully completed by early next year."

This claim is Verified, but needs context.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the completion of the border wall's 100th mile -- however, an estimated 90 miles of wall construction was repairs or replacement to existing walls, according to Customs and Border Patrol. Wolf has also given lower estimates, saying 400-450 miles of wall would either be completed OR under construction by the end of 2020 -- not 500 miles completed.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol

- Nicole Zibelman

CLAIM: "The unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have reached the lowest levels in history."

This claim is true, but needs context.

U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics only go back to 1972 for African American unemployment, 1973 for Hispanic American unemployment and 2003 for Asian American unemployment.The unemployment rate for Hispanic Americans dipped to 3.9 percent in September 2019—its lowest rate since 1973, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking employment rates for Hispanic Americans. It rose slightly to 4.2 percent in December 2019. The unemployment rate for Asian Americans has fallen from 3.6 percent when Trump took office to 2.5 percent in December 2019. It reached an all-time low in June 2019 of 2.1 percent, its lowest since the BLS began tracking in 2003. The unemployment rate for African Americans was 5.9 percent in December 2019 which is a slight increase from 5.6 percent in November 2019, but is down from the 8.7 percent when President Trump took office. 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 

- Matt Keyser

CLAIM: "The unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years." 

This is true but needs context. 

It is the lowest unemployment rate for women since September 1953. The current unemployment rate is 3.5 percent the last time it was lower than that was 66 years ago, so "almost 70 years."

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics  

- Eliana Block

CLAIM: Trump claimed drug overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Drug overdose deaths declined in 2018, but it was the first time in nearly 20 years.

The Center for Disease Control released a brief earlier this month showing that the number of drug overdose deaths dropped between 2017 and 2018: there were 70,237 deaths in 2017 and 67,367 deaths in 2018. That brief included a table that dated back to 1999 and each year in that data set the number of drug overdose deaths did indeed increase. 

The CDC lacks data of “drug overdose” deaths from before then, but it does have “drug-induced mortality” numbers. From 1990 to 1998, that number increased each year to 16,926 in 1998. The drug overdose deaths number in 1999 was less than that, 16,849. The “drug-induced mortality” number in 1999 was also less than that at 19,128. 

Therefore, 2018 was the first time in nearly 20 years that the number of drug overdose deaths declined and only the second time in nearly the last 30 years.

Source: Various CDC sources including a CDC brief, 1999-2018 data, 1990-1998 data, 1999 data 

- TJ Spry 

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