WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden praised the economy as well as his legislative accomplishments and record on the world stage in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Biden’s speech contained no outright falsehoods, but at times omitted crucial context or exaggerated the facts. Here’s a fact check.
— What was said: “I stand here tonight, after we’ve created, with the help of many people in this room, 12 million new jobs — more jobs created in two years than any president has created in four years.”
This needs context. The economy added 12.1 million jobs between January 2021, the month when Biden took office, and this January. By raw numbers, that is indeed a larger increase in new jobs over two years than the number added over other presidents’ full four-year terms since at least 1945. But by percentage, the job growth in Biden’s first two years still lags behind that of his predecessors’ full terms.
Under Biden, jobs have increased by 8.5% since his term began. That jump is less than that in President Barack Obama’s first term (8.6%), President Bill Clinton’s first term (10.5%), President Ronald Reagan’s second term (11.2%) and President Jimmy Carter’s four years in office (12.8%).
Biden is, of course, conflating his first two years in office with the entire term or presidencies of his predecessors, so the comparison is not equivalent. Moreover, Biden’s first two years in office followed historic job losses wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Most important, presidents are not singularly responsible for the state of the economy. — LINDA QIU
— What was said: “For too many decades, we imported products and exported jobs. Now, thanks to what you’ve all done, we’re exporting American products and creating American jobs.”
This is misleading. Biden’s statement gives the impression that a decades-old trend has reversed, but the data tells a different story. American exports reached a new high in 2022, with exports of goods alone topping $2 trillion. But the United States also imported a record high last year, $3.3 trillion in goods — countering the notion that imports have slowed. As a result, the United States also recorded the highest ever trade deficit since 1970 of $950 billion, and a trade deficit in goods of $1.1 trillion. — LINDA QIU
— What was said: “Inflation has been a global problem because the pandemic disrupted our supply chains and Putin’s unfair and brutal war in Ukraine disrupted energy supplies as well as food supplies.”
This needs context. It is accurate that inflation has been global, and that supply chain issues tied to the pandemic have been a major driver of price increases. It is also true that food and energy disruptions tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated it. But those factors did not spur inflation on their own: Supply chains became clogged in the first place partly because U.S. demand for goods was abnormally strong during the pandemic.
That surge in demand came as stuck-at-home consumers shifted their spending away from services and toward things like new furniture. Their spending was also fueled partly by stimulus checks and other pandemic aid. Several studies by economists at the Federal Reserve have found that government spending contributed to some, but far from all, of the inflation. — JEANNA SMIALEK
— What was said: “Food inflation is coming down.”
True. Food inflation is beginning to slow, though it remains very rapid. Compared with a year ago, food prices are 10.4% higher. But monthly food price increases have been slowing steadily in recent months, coming down from a very swift rate in May 2022.
Of course, the current situation does not feel great to many consumers: Food prices are still climbing from already-high levels. And some specific food products are much more expensive than last year. Eggs, in particular, have been a pain point for consumers in recent months. — JEANNA SMIALEK
— What was said: “Inflation has fallen every month for the last six months, while take-home pay has gone up.”
This needs context. It is true that inflation has slowed for the past six months: That means that prices are still increasing, but they are doing so more gradually. The Consumer Price Index ticked up by 6.5% in the year through December, which is notably slower than the 9% peak in June. That pace is still much more rapid than the roughly 2% that was typical before the pandemic.
It is also true that wages are climbing sharply compared with the pace that would be normal. But for much of 2021 and 2022, wage gains struggled to keep up with rapid price increases. That has recently begun to change: Average hourly earnings increases exceeded consumer price increases on a monthly basis in both November and December 2022. — JEANNA SMIALEK
— What was said: “We’re finally giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices.”
This needs context. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law in August, does fulfill Democrats’ long-held goal of empowering Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical makers. But the law has limits. The negotiation provisions do not kick in until 2026, when the federal government may begin negotiating the price of up to 10 medicines. The number of drugs subject to negotiation will rise over time. — SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
— What was said: “In the last two years, my administration has cut the deficit by more than $1.7 trillion — the largest deficit reduction in American history.”
This needs context. The federal deficit did decrease by $1.7 trillion, from $3.1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year to $1.4 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, though Biden’s fiscal policies are not the sole factor.
In fact, much of that decline can be attributed to the expiration of pandemic-era spending, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates lower levels of spending. In February 2021, before the Biden administration enacted any fiscal legislation, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit would have reached $1.1 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, less than what ended up happening.
Coronavirus stimulus funding from 2021 added nearly $1.9 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, the budget office estimated. The budget agency also estimated that the infrastructure package added $256 billion to the deficit, though supporters disagreed with the analysis. The Inflation Reduction Act, which was the only significant piece of legislation to reduce the deficit, trimmed it by $238 billion over the next 10 years. — LINDA QIU
— What was said: “Nearly 25% of the entire national debt that took over 200 years to accumulate was added by just one administration alone, the last one.”
This needs context. Biden is correct that a quarter of the national debt was accumulated over the four years Trump was in office. But the former president did not unilaterally add to that amount. In fact, two major factors driving that increase were mandatory spending levels set long before Trump took office and bipartisan spending bills that were passed to address the pandemic.
From the 2018 to 2021 fiscal years, the government collected $14.3 trillion in revenue, and spent $21.9 trillion, according to data compiled by the Congressional Budget Office. In that time, mandatory spending on programs such as Social Security and Medicare totaled $14.7 trillion alone. Discretionary spending totaled about $5.8 trillion.
The budget estimated that Trump’s tax cuts — which passed in December 2017 with no Democrats in support — added roughly another $1 trillion to the federal deficit from 2018 to 2021, even after factoring in economic growth spurred by the tax cuts.
But other drivers of the deficit include several sweeping measures that had bipartisan approval. The first coronavirus stimulus package, which received near unanimous support in Congress, added $2 trillion to the deficit over the next two fiscal years. Three additional spending measures contending with COVID-19 and its economic ramifications added another $1.4 trillion. — LINDA QIU
— What was said: “Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s a majority.”
This needs context. Biden implied that the Republicans who wanted to allow Social Security and Medicare to sunset were tying those demands to the fight over raising the nation’s debt limit.
It is true that a couple of Republicans have suggested allowing those entitlement programs to sunset as mandatory spending, instead bringing them up for regular renewal. But Republicans have recently distanced themselves from such efforts. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are “off the table” in talks over raising the debt ceiling, which Congress must vote to do in the coming month or risk a default on the government’s bills. Likewise, President Donald Trump has warned Republicans to leave the programs alone in the negotiations. Biden, nodding to lawmakers responding to his speech, acknowledged that it seemed that cuts to the programs were “off the books now.” — JEANNA SMIALEK
— What was said: “While the virus is not gone, thanks to the resilience of the American people and the ingenuity of medicine, we have broken the COVID grip on us. COVID deaths are down by 90%.”
This needs context. On average, about 450 people in the United States are dying each day of COVID-19, according to a New York Times database. That number is way down from the roughly 3,200 Americans who were dying each day in early 2021, when the omicron variant was ripping through the country. But the current daily average of COVID deaths is higher than it was in December 2022, when roughly 250 Americans were losing their lives each day to the virus. — SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
— What was said: “We united NATO. We built a global coalition.”
True. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Biden led a huge political, economic and military response that has involved dozens of countries. Surprising many experts who predicted that the United States’ European allies would argue over strategy and lose their resolve, NATO has shown a unity unseen since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and, a year after the Russian invasion, continues to supply vast amounts of weapons to Ukraine.
That unity has not been perfect: NATO leaders have argued at times, including their recent tussle over whether and how to supply modern tanks to Ukraine. But many analysts believe it has surprised President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who did not anticipate such a strong degree of Western resolve.
Biden also successfully rallied dozens of nations beyond NATO to join in economic sanctions against Moscow, including Asian countries like South Korea and Japan. That coalition excludes major nations like India and China, which are supporting the Kremlin’s war machine through major purchases of Russian oil. But it remains among the broadest coalitions the United States has led against an adversary. — MICHAEL CROWLEY
— What was said: “But in the past two years, democracies have become stronger, not weaker. Autocracy has grown weaker, not stronger.”
This lacks evidence. Experts say that Biden took office after years of global gains for autocracy and deep problems for democracies — as illustrated by the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. According to the nonprofit group Freedom House, in every region of the world “democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power.”
It is hard to say whether Biden has changed the situation. He has made the defense of democracies a core theme of his presidency and held a White House democracy summit in December 2021. He has worked to contain two major autocratic powers, building a coalition against Russia in defense of Ukraine — which has weakened its economy and isolated it diplomatically — and rallied allies to contest China’s political influence and technological gains. American voters rejected many election conspiracy theorists in the midterm elections last year.
But Russia and, especially, China retain considerable foreign political influence. Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, had a far-right riot in the heart of its government last month. Italy elected a prime minister whose party has fascist roots. Huge crowds in Israel are protesting new right-wing government policies that opponents call an assault on democracy. Last February, The Economist magazine’s annual democracy index found that “global democracy continued its precipitous decline in 2021.” Biden’s rosier view is difficult to substantiate. — MICHAEL CROWLEY