State of the Union 2015 Fact Check

What the president left out on energy, Obamacare, and the economy.

Obama stands before giving his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Sam Baker, Dan Berman, Patrick Reis and Clare Foran
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Sam Baker Dan Berman and Patrick Reis and Clare Foran
Jan. 20, 2015, 5:01 p.m.

The State of the Uni­on is tra­di­tion­ally a laun­dry list of policy pro­pos­als long on rhet­or­ic and short on de­tails. And everything Pres­id­ent Obama says is vet­ted to the hilt.

That said, the speech is also one of the rare mo­ments the White House has the un­in­ter­rup­ted at­ten­tion of the Amer­ic­an people. That’s why the White House made a big deal of re­leas­ing the pre­pared text to the pub­lic be­fore the pres­id­ent spoke. But there’s al­ways a tempta­tion to mas­sage the facts, or leave some con­text out.

Here’s our fact/spin check of the 2015 State of the Uni­on:

En­ergy in­de­pend­ence

We be­lieved we could re­duce our de­pend­ence on for­eign oil and pro­tect our plan­et. And today, Amer­ica is num­ber one in oil and gas.”

Ac­cord­ing to En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion data, the U.S. is now the largest oil and nat­ur­al-gas pro­du­cer in the world. Do­mest­ic oil pro­duc­tion in­creased from an av­er­age of 5.2 mil­lion bar­rels per day in 2009 to 7.2 mil­lion bar­rels per day in 2013, ac­cord­ing the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice. Nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion jumped from 21.6 tril­lion cu­bic feet to 25.5 tril­lion cu­bic feet dur­ing the same peri­od.

That boom, however, has taken place largely on state and private land and out of reach of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. And while fossil-fuel pro­duc­tion is up over­all, from 2009 to 2013, oil and nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion ac­tu­ally de­creased on fed­er­ally owned tracts of land.

U.S. im­ports of crude oil have also fallen in re­cent years, de­clin­ing from an av­er­age of 9.7 mil­lion bar­rels per day of oil im­ports in 2008 to 8.5 mil­lion bar­rels per day in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the EIA.

But what Obama left out of his speech is that des­pite that de­cline, the U.S. re­mains a top con­sumer of for­eign oil. In 2012, the latest year for which EIA had avail­able data, the U.S. was the No. 1 oil im­port­er in the world.

Obama­care

“And in the past year alone, about 10 mil­lion un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans fi­nally gained the se­cur­ity of health cov­er­age “¦ and health care in­fla­tion [is] at its low­est rate in 50 years.”

We don’t know for sure how many un­in­sured Amer­ic­ans have got­ten cov­er­age through the Af­ford­able Care Act, but Obama’s math is in line with es­tim­ates pub­lished last year in the New Eng­land Journ­al of Medi­cine. That ana­lys­is — which was con­duc­ted in part by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices — es­tim­ated that 10.3 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans gained in­sur­ance due to Obama­care, based on the de­cline in the un­in­sured rate and 2014 census es­tim­ates.

That es­tim­ate is more gen­er­ous to Obama­care than the most re­cent Gal­lup Poll, but Gal­lup still found the per­cent­age of Amer­ic­ans without health in­sur­ance is lower than it’s ever been. The polling firm said earli­er this month that roughly 13 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans lack health in­sur­ance — a steep drop of more than 4 per­cent since Obama­care en­roll­ment began and the law’s Medi­caid ex­pan­sion took ef­fect.

And health care in­fla­tion is in­deed grow­ing at his­tor­ic­ally low rates.

In 2013, the most re­cent year for which data are avail­able, total U.S. health care spend­ing in­creased by just 3.6 per­cent. That’s the low­est single-year in­crease on re­cord, and it made 2013 the fifth straight year of his­tor­ic­ally low spend­ing growth. Health care spend­ing grew more slowly than the over­all eco­nomy, mean­ing health care’s share of the eco­nomy didn’t get any big­ger. All of this is ex­tremely good news for the coun­try’s bal­ance sheet.

Obama­care doesn’t de­serve all the cred­it: There’s usu­ally a peri­od of slow growth in the few years fol­low­ing a re­ces­sion, and ex­perts agree that’s part of the slow­down we’re see­ing now. But many health policy ex­perts say Obama­care is help­ing — the law made a lot of dir­ect cuts to Medi­care spend­ing, which nat­ur­ally slowed spend­ing on that pro­gram.

Job growth

“Our eco­nomy is grow­ing and cre­at­ing jobs at the fast­est pace since 1999. Our un­em­ploy­ment rate is now lower than it was be­fore the fin­an­cial crisis.”

That’s true, but it’s also not the whole story.

First, the good news. Ac­cord­ing to the Labor De­part­ment’s non­par­tis­an num­ber crunch­ers, the un­em­ploy­ment rate cur­rently sits at 5.6 per­cent. That’s the low­est level since June 2008 — about three months be­fore Leh­man Broth­ers col­lapsed and the fin­an­cial crisis went in­to full swing. Un­em­ploy­ment peaked at 10 per­cent in Oc­to­ber 2009, and has been gradu­ally fall­ing since — in large part be­cause the private sec­tor is cre­at­ing more jobs. After los­ing more than 5 mil­lion jobs dur­ing Obama’s first 14 months in of­fice, the private sec­tor has since pos­ted 58 straight months of job growth. And over that stretch, more than 11 mil­lion private jobs have been ad­ded. In 2014, the private sec­tor ad­ded an av­er­age of 238,000 jobs per month.

But it’s not all good news. The un­em­ploy­ment rate is not simply a count of every­one out of a job. In­stead, it tal­lies the per­cent of people who are both out of a job and act­ively look­ing to get one. So there are two ways to leave the le­gion of un­em­ployed: One can get a job, or one can quit look­ing all to­geth­er. In June 2008, the labor force par­ti­cip­a­tion rate — the per­cent­age of all U.S. ci­vil­ians aged 16 and above who hold a pay­ing job — was 66.1 per­cent. In Decem­ber 2014, that rate sat at 62.7 per­cent. And if the same per­cent­age of Amer­ic­ans were com­pet­ing for jobs today as were in 2008, the un­em­ploy­ment rate would be much high­er.

Obama’s crit­ics charge that the pres­id­ent’s un­em­ploy­ment re­cord is falsely in­flated by these labor mar­ket de­par­tures, and some point to the growth in re­cip­i­ents of dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits and oth­er so­cial pro­grams as proof that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is in­centiv­iz­ing work­ers to quit. And it is a troub­ling trend: The labor force par­ti­cip­a­tion rate has been de­clin­ing for at least 15 years, and as work­ers make up a smal­ler part of the pop­u­la­tion, it strains pro­grams such as Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity, as there aren’t enough work­ers to keep pay­ing in­to the pro­grams to keep up with the be­ne­fi­ciar­ies who are tak­ing money out.

There is an­oth­er wrinkle to con­sider, however: While in­di­vidu­als who quit look­ing for work cer­tainly ac­count for some por­tion of the drop in un­em­ploy­ment, not all of those in­di­vidu­als are vic­tims of the bad eco­nomy. Some are people who de­cided to go back to school or, even bet­ter, de­cided they had saved enough money to re­tire. In­deed, as the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion ages, it would be a sign of eco­nom­ic dis­tress — not vi­tal­ity — if the vast ma­jor­ity of them con­tin­ued to look for work.

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