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January 29, 2014

Fact Checker: The 2014 State of the Union address

Obama's numbers can be fuzzy, while GOP response is fishy

A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact-check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are relatively rare. But State of the Union addresses often are very political speeches, an argument for the president's policies, so context is sometimes missing.

Here is a guide through some of President Barack Obama's more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them. At the end, we also examine one fishy fact in the Republican response.

State of the Union address

"The more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years."

The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the economy in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and there has indeed been a gain of about 8 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. (Obama, saying "businesses," appears to be referring to private sector growth of 8.2 million; adding government jobs reduces the total to 7.6 million.) But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.

"A manufacturing sector that's adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s."

The low point for manufacturing jobs was reached in January 2010, and there has been a gain of 570,000 jobs since then. But BLS data show that the number of manufacturing jobs is still 500,000 fewer than when Obama took office in the depths of the recession — and 1.7 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007. The gain in manufacturing actually has begun to stall a bit in the past year. The only reason Obama can tout a gain in manufacturing jobs "for the first time since the 1990s" is because, before the recession, manufacturing had been on a slow decline for many years.

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