In his address to Congress last night, Donald Trump said all kinds of things that were ridiculously untrue, but for me, this one rankled the most.
"Tonight, as I outlined the next steps we must take as a country, we must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited. 94 million Americans are out of the labor force. Over 43 million people are now living in poverty."
This wasn't unexpected -- the president is desperate for Americans to believe he inherited a mess, reality be damned -- but it is breathtakingly misleading. In September, for example, we saw the U.S. poverty rate drop at the fastest rate in nearly a half-century. The facts, in other words, are pretty much the opposite of the picture Trump tried to paint in his remarks.But it's the "94 million Americans are out of the labor force" line that gets to me. He's used this line before; he knows it's brazenly deceptive; and he keeps saying it anyway.The truth, whether Trump likes it or not, is that the "94 million" statistic includes retirees, students, the disabled, and stay-at-home parents. He uses the figure to make it appear that the nation is facing some kind of jobs crisis, but to think there are 94 million Americans eagerly trying to find a job is plainly ridiculous.And why does this matter, aside from the fact that the president keeps trying to mislead the public? A couple of reasons stand out.First, Trump intends to be "the greatest jobs producer that God ever created," which is a nice goal, but it'll probably require him to have some rudimentary understanding of employment statistics. If he's baffled by the basics of what "labor force" means, the president is off to an unfortunate start.Second, by the end of his first term, more than 94 million Americans are likely to be out of the labor force -- not as a result of the administration's policies, but simply as a result of demographic trends. In other words, Trump is creating a metric that will almost certainly be self-defeating.If his Democratic opponent in 2020 says, "Can you believe 96 million Americans are out of the work force -- more than when Trump started?" it'll be a little late for him to respond, "Well, that statistic paints a misleading picture."