WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is embracing numbers he once maligned as “phony” as he tries to take credit for the latest jobs report.
The new administration on Friday promoted new Labor Department statistics that show U.S. employers added 235,000 jobs in February. The unemployment also rate dipped to a low 4.7 percent from 4.8 percent.
“Great news for American workers: economy added 235,000 new jobs, unemployment rate drops to 4.7% in first report for @POTUS Trump,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
“Not a bad way to start day 50 of this Administration,” he later said.
It was a jarring contrast from the campaign, when Trump repeatedly questioned the stats’ legitimacy. And economists say it’s unlikely the president’s policies had much to do with the new numbers anyway.
Back then, candidate Trump denounced “phony unemployment numbers” he claimed had been invented by politicians to make them look good.
“Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35,” he said in February, on the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary election.
During a speech at the prestigious Detroit Economic club, Trump pointed to figures that show one in five American households do not have a single member in the labor force. He failed to mention the one in five includes children, young people in school and senior citizens who are retired.
“These are the real unemployment numbers. The 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics,” he said.
Asked about the apparent disconnect, Spicer was unapologetic: “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past but they are very real now,'” he told reporters at his daily press briefing, drawing laughs.
While the unemployment rate has its shortcomings, the jobless rate is one of the prime statistics used to hold U.S. leaders accountable for the economy’s health.
Though it has been criticized for omitting people who aren’t actively searching for jobs from the count, it provides a benchmark that is similar to the way most other nations around world calculate their unemployment rates.
While business and consumer confidence have soared since the presidential election, with many business executives saying they expect faster economic growth to result from Trump’s promised tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending, economists also say it’s too soon for Trump to be taking credit.
“No new economic policies have yet been enacted,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. Instead, he pointed to an unusually mild winter that likely boosted hiring by construction firms as a potential cause.
Cold weather in February typically shuts down building work sites across much of the country. But last month was the second-warmest February since 1895, according to the Commerce Department. That’s likely a big reason construction firms added the most new jobs in a decade.
A survey of small businesses shows that their optimism has soared since the election, reaching the highest level in 12 years in January, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. Other measures also show greater business confidence.
But whether that has already translated into more jobs is difficult to say with any precision. Many of the corporate announcements of new jobs that Trump has promoted – by ExxonMobil, Intel, and Ford, for example – will take place over many years and were already planned before the election.
Trump and Republicans have been quick to claim credit nonetheless.
“The February jobs report exceeded expectations by 50,000 jobs,” said the Republican National Committee in an email, “another sign President Donald Trump’s pro-growth agenda is spurring businesses to hire ‘aggressively.'”
“It’s not just a question of what we believe. It’s a question of what decisions U.S. manufactures and job creators and businesses are making because they want to buy into the president’s agenda and vision,” added Spicer.
Associated Press writers Christopher S. Rugaber and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.
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