During President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday night, the president looked at the current economic and political situation he took over when he came into office.
In doing so, however, Trump repeated a figure that makes the job market sound much worse than it is.
“Tonight, as I outline the next steps we must take as a country, we must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited, ” said Trump. “Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labour force.”
That seems like a lot considering that the total US population is just over 320 million people. But consider what the Bureau of Labour Statistics is actually measuring when it counts those 94 million.
The calculation of the labour force uses all civilian Americans over the age of 16. Thus, Trump’s seemingly harrowing statistic includes students in high school and college, retirees, and even those disabled and unable to work.
Trump’s been criticised for using this figure before. In fact, he used it during the campaign for President. As far back as 2015, PolitiFact called Trump (and Ted Cruz separately) out for using the number.
The job market has its problems, but it has healed a great deal from the deep wound of the financial crisis: The labour force participation rate is at its lowest level in three decades, but this comes in large part due to the ageing and retirement of Baby Boomers. Unemployment is near its lowest since before the recession, the number of job openings in the US is close to a record high, and the US has added over 11 million private sector jobs since 2008.
There are also plenty of ways the job market is still behind — wages have not rebounded to pre-recession levels and there is a persistent mismatch between the skills Americans have and the skills employers want — but the 94 million out of the labour force makes it sounds worse than it is.