WASHINGTON – The country – or at least its elective representatives – didn't seem unified at Tuesday night's State of the Union address, what with President Trump refusing to shake the hand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Pelosi ripping a copy of Trump's speech in half at the end.
But beyond those theatrics lies one truth: Trump's speech was full of information that was misleading or untruthful, particularly regarding the economy. And, when boiled down to the local level, several of the key points Trump made regarding the nation are equally untrue about metro Buffalo.
Here's a close look at some of Trump's key claims and what the data shows about them, both for the nation and for Western New York:
'Our economy is the best it has ever been.'
By many accounts, the national economy is extraordinarily strong. December's unemployment rate of 3.5% is down from 4.7% in Barack Obama's last full month in the White House three years earlier. Meanwhile, the most common measure of the overall economy – gross domestic product – rose at an average annual rate of 2.53% under Trump, up slightly from an average of 2.33% during the last three years of the Obama administration.
But is the economy the best it has ever been? Not if you look way back in history. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that the unemployment rate in 1952 was nearly a point lower than the most recent figure under Trump. And U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that the economy grew more than twice as fast during stretches of the 1950s and 1960s than it has under Trump.
On top of that, almost every president since the Great Depression has enjoyed a three-year period with stronger growth than the Trump era. The only two exceptions? Obama and George H.W. Bush.
As goes the nation, so goes Buffalo. Federal statistics show the unemployment rate fell a full percentage point in the years following Trump's election, to a seasonally adjusted 4.4% last November – but it was lower than that as recently as October 2000.
And the overall Buffalo Niagara economy has been lagging. Local gross domestic product, after adjusting for inflation, rose a little less than 1% in Trump's first two year in office – the last years for which data is available – real economic growth in metro Buffalo averaged a little less than 1.2% annually in Obama's last three years in office.
'We are restoring our nation’s manufacturing might.'
While manufacturing employment increased during Trump's first two years in office, it started falling last February. Meanwhile, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the Buffalo area has shed 1,600 manufacturing jobs since Trump's election.
Trump said 12,000 "new factories" opened during his time in the White House, but that is misleading. Federal data shows that about 12,000 "manufacturing establishments" have been created since Trump took office. But the Washington Post reported that more than 80% of them employ five or fewer people, which hardly qualifies them as "factories."
'This is a blue-collar boom.'
Not only has manufacturing lagged in recent months, but other blue-collar sectors – mining, logging and construction – are struggling as well. Federal statistics show that mining and logging employment fell 4.6% in the second half of last year. And between May and December, seasonally adjusted construction employment fell 4.2%.
The outlook is a bit better in Buffalo. Total employment in mining, logging and construction, which are combined in one category on the local level, totaled 20,200 in metro Buffalo in December. That's the exact same figure as during Obama's last full month in office.
'After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast'
Wages are indeed rising in the Trump era. According to the government's Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita personal income increased at an average annual rate of 4.45% nationwide in Trump's first two years in office. Incomes increased by almost as much, 4.3%, in the Buffalo area.
But incomes have not been flat and falling for decades. Federal data shows that personal incomes nationwide have increased steadily, dropping only when the nation was in recession.
What's more, the income increases of the Trump era are by no means unique. While per capita incomes rose at a meager rate nationwide through most of the Obama years, they increased 5.5% in 2012. And locally, the increase in personal income matched or outstripped Trump's average rate in three of Obama's last six years in office.
'The USMCA. will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs.'
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement – Trump's replacement for the widely criticized North American Free Trade Agreement – will create the full-time equivalent of about 28,000 jobs nationwide, the U.S. International Trade Commission said in a report last year.
And while that report included no local data, the new trade agreement is expected to boost the local auto industry and Western New York in general.
'The state of our union is stronger than ever before.'
There didn't seem to be much union in the House chamber during Trump's speech. Republicans chanted "Four More Years!" while Democrats sat silent. First Lady Melania Trump draped the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, around the neck of Rush Limbaugh, a talk-radio Republican who once compared Chelsea Clinton, then the 12-year-old daughter of a Democratic presidential candidate, to a dog.
The state of disunion continued after Pelosi, with a flourish, tore up Trump's speech. Then, Republicans and Democrats offered their reviews – and painted different pictures of the state of the nation.
"Thanks to President Trump, we are in the midst of the Greatest American Comeback," said New York Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. "Our nation is succeeding at home and abroad. Our future is bright. And with four more years of President Trump, we will continue to usher in this era of American greatness.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, dismissed Trump's speech as "a deliberate attempt to mislead people into thinking he's doing something for them when he's doing the direct opposite."