The other day I listed some must-know basic demographic facts. If Chuck Todd on Meet the Press had practiced them he could have caught this from Donald Trump (if he wanted to). Trump said this (transcript here) on Sunday:
But listen, Chuck, you have 60, 70, 80 million people out there that want to work that aren’t getting jobs.
First clue to a big lie is he scaled it up by 33% in 0.5 seconds. Second clue is it’s ridiculous.
How far can you get to debunking this with just our basic demography lesson? The U.S. population is 323 million, and 23% are children under 18. So that leaves 249 million. Remember that 48 million (15% of the population) is age 65 or older. Round numbers, that leaves 200 million. If kids and seniors don’t want jobs, that means 40% of working-age adults want jobs but can’t get them (80 million out of 200 million). So, off the top of your head, either things are literally worse than ever, or that’s wrong.
To get a better estimate of the answer will take five minutes at IPUMS.org’s Current Population Survey online data tool. Here’s the query you need, showing who has a job, and who of those who don’t wants a job (it’s not complicated — the Bureau of Labor Statistics asks them). The people who meet Trump’s criteria highlighted, all 16 million of them.
About 10.4 million are unemployed — that is, no job and actively seeking one — so they are NIU (not in universe) for the “do you want a job” question, but by definition they want a job. Another 5.6 million are out of the labor force (no job, not looking), and when asked say they would rather have a job. So that’s 16 million.*
Of course an interviewer can’t fact check everything on the fly. But a big claim, off by a factor of 5-to-1, should give a good journalist pause.**
You know who’s really hurting?
Lots of people are really hurting. But come on.
I wrote earlier about the mingling of racism and masculinism in Trump’s rhetoric. I hate that the racism is an issue that people bring up sometimes but then shelve when they talk about other issues. That’s no way to understand America. One way they do this is talking in race-neutral terms about how people support Trump because they’re economically insecure. OK, but you just have to add, “and White” for that to make sense.
Here is the exchange from the final segment of Meet the Press. Chuck Todd asks Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, “What’s fueling Trump?” He gives him a lead in about stagnating wages, and then they have this exchange:
I was flipping through my notebook the other day, and I found that the most enthusiastic Trump supporters are white males who lack a college education between the ages of 35 and 55.
They’re getting it. This economy is killing them.
And Trump talks about scarred landscapes across the Rust Belt. He talks about factories being taken down. I mean, that is connecting with these voters. And they’re not ideological. They like Trump because he seems to have answers.
This economy is killing who, now? White men, 35-55, with no college degree. This economy is tough for them. Almost as tough — but not really — as it is for Black men, age 35-55, with no college degree. Here are their employment rates for the last decade:
By this theory of the Trump voter, shouldn’t it be Black men who are lining up for Trump?***
* Note This is just non-institutionalized people. (In the unlikely event Trump is counting prisoners, you could add another 2 million, since they’d probably rather be out and employed.)
** John Hipple at the Bureau of Labor Statistics just wrote a short piece on why people don’t have jobs, such as retirement, disability, attending school, and so on, but he didn’t include this handy “do you want a job” question, which gets right to Trumps point.
*** This reminds me of Brad Wilcox’s description of the “classic working class or lower middle-class American,” which he clarified meant people in the lower-middle part of the income distribution who are “both white and Hispanic.”