Trump says black poverty has been 'reversed'... the data says otherwise

John T Bennett

On its face, Donald Trump's remark to Fox News personality Sean Hannity about the African-American poverty rate was just another bold pronouncement. But, as often is the case, a review of his government's own data suggest it was something of a whopper -- even by his standards.

"I mean you see what's going on.There's a revolution going on in this country. I mean a positive revolution. So African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, we have the best numbers we've ever had. African-American, the poverty numbers are now reversed," the president said in an interview that aired before the Super Bowl on February 2.

"And they're the best that they've ever had," Mr Trump said.

Politifact, a nonpartisan fact-checking organisation, has deemed the president's claims of record-low minority unemployment rates to be accurate. But his claim about the African-American poverty rate being "reversed" is challenged by data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2018, the latest year for which the agency has released poverty figures, 20.8 per cent of the group was considered unemployed. That's down from a 21.2 per cent rate in 2017, Mr Trump's first as president.

A decline, with another expected in 2019, for sure. But a "reverse"?

The Democratic field of presidential hopefuls have a different assessment.

"We're also getting a lot of questions from black voters about a vision and an agenda for black Americans, at a time when we have seen all of the ways in which systemic racism has persisted and led to a different American experience for so many black Americans, on everything from how you experience the economy, to the health care system, to the criminal legal system, to our democracy itself," Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said this week.

Mr Buttigieg, however, has drawn criticism for his claims that the black poverty rate in his city "fell by more than half" during his mayorship. The nonpartisan organisation Politifact rated that claim "mostly false" because when looking at "five-year estimates with greater reliability, shows a decline of about 6 per cent."

Still, that Mr Trump and Mr Buttigieg are talking so much about African-American poverty rates shows it likely will remain a big issue in the presidential race.

In the Hannity one-on-one and other public remarks, Mr Trump's often gives himself and his administration sole credit for the declining poverty rate among African-Americans and other minority groups.

"Just as I promised during my campaign, we're fighting every day to expand opportunity for African-American communities all across our country. African-American youth, we have such great news on African American youth, unemployment has reached its lowest level ever recorded," Mr Trump told GOP governors at the White House earlier this month. "It's a great statistic.

"African-American poverty rates have plummeted to their lowest rate ever in history," he said. "And wages for African-American workers have increased $2,400 a year. That's also a record."

And on January 24, Mr Trump told this to a group of mayors during an event at the White House: "We've lifted 650,000 single mothers and 1.4 million children out of poverty. True. Ten million people have been lifted off of welfare in less than three years."

But, at least when it comes to the African-American unemployment rate, it has been dropping since 2011.

Barack Obama was president then. In fact, he had not even begun to seriously seek his eventual second term when 27.6 percent of blacks were considered unemployed.

Mr Trump leaves that statistic out.

He also excludes another data point: The largest one-year decline, a 2.1 per cent drop, since 2011 occurred twice: between 2014 and 2015, then again between 2015 and 2016.

Both were under Mr Obama's watch.

What's more, experts suggest that diving deeper inside economic and other data than the president does in his election-year rhetoric about unemployment rates shows a much less rosy picture.

"In America, race and poverty are intertwined, doubly disadvantaging black students," according to Emma Garcia of the Economic Policy Institute.

"A black child faces a very high probability of ending up in a school where a majority of her peers are both poor and students of colour. While less than 1 in 10 white students attend high-poverty schools with a high share of students of colour, six in 10 black students do," according to Garcia. "In contrast, about a fourth of white students attend schools where most of their peers are white and not poor, while only 3.1 per cent of black children attend such schools."

But a senior administration official echoed Mr Trump, who often repeats claims true, false and somewhere in the middle until his supporters repeat them.

"The numbers don't lie: All Americans are winning under President Trump," the senior official said. "African-Americans under President Trump are lifting themselves from poverty at record setting levels because they are employed at record highs and enjoy a boom in wage growth."