As a candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump routinely dismissed the falling unemployment rate as illegitimate. At different times, the Republican publicly argued that the unemployment rate was 20% or possibly 42%, even as reality pointed to a rate closer to 5%. After the election, at a pre-inaugural press conference, the president declared there are "96 million really wanting a job and they can't get," which didn't make any sense.With that in mind, when a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer this week, "What is the unemployment rate?" this wasn't a gotcha question or a pop quiz. As Benjy Sarlin had a good piece on this the other day:
This all-over-the-map approach creates an obvious problem -- how do we judge Trump's success or failures on the economy? Will he still be claiming 42 percent of people are out of work when he's running for re-election? Or will he go back to the traditional number -- currently 4.7 percent -- to gauge how things are going?
Spicer largely dodged the question, eventually telling reporters, in reference to the president, "He's not focused on statistics as much as he is on whether or not the American people are doing better as a whole.... I think far too often in Washington we get our heads wrapped around a number and a statistic. And we look at, and we forget the faces and the families and the business that are behind those numbers. For too long it's been about stats."As a rule, people who are eager to dismiss specific, quantifiable economic measurements tend to believe the "stats" will be unflattering for them.Nevertheless, it's a little late for Trump World to deny interest in economic data. Not only did Trump spend a year sharing figures that apparently originated in his over-active imagination, his White House has already established some key economic benchmarks, whether Sean Spicer is willing to acknowledge them or not.After the new president's inauguration, the Trump White House published this: "To get the economy back on track, President Trump has outlined a bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade and return to 4 percent annual economic growth." The sentence is still available online right now.During his confirmation hearing, Steve Mnuchin, Trump's choice to lead the Treasury Department, predicted that the new administration's economic agenda could indeed deliver growth of 3% to 4%.Just so we're clear, these specific figures -- on jobs and growth -- are in writing. They are, in effect, the goals Trump and his team should be evaluated on. The GOP president believes he and his team will deliver the most robust job and economic growth in modern American history, and we'll know whether they've met their goals by simply comparing reality to their own stated benchmarks.By then, it'll be too late to say, "He's not focused on statistics."