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Trump says he saved 51 million jobs in pandemic. Economists, U.S. officials say otherwise

EconomyAug 27, 2020 09:45AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump hosts coronavirus response event at the White House in Washington 2/2

By Lawrence Delevingne, Chris Prentice, Michelle Price and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Standing before half a dozen American flags during a press conference at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, President Donald Trump heralded what has become a central plank of his argument for re-election in November: his administration’s handling of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through the historic relief package that I signed into law, we saved over 50 million American jobs,” he said in the Aug. 15 remarks. Referring to his Democratic opponents, he said, “They don’t like these kind of numbers because they think it’ll hurt them in the election.”

The estimate that the $660 billion taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) saved some 51 million jobs has been trumpeted by the Republican Party, its Congressional leadership and the president’s reelection campaign. On Monday, Trump touted it again at a rally west of Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Republican National Convention.

However, the PPP likely did not save 51 million jobs, or anywhere close to it, according to Reuters interviews with economists and an analysis of the program’s data. Half a dozen economists put the number of jobs saved by the initiative at only a fraction of 51 million – ranging between one million and 14 million.

“I don’t think there is an economist who would say that the program has saved 50 million jobs,” said Richard Prisinzano, who was a financial economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury for 13 years before leaving in 2017. His rough estimate, Prisinzano said, is between five and seven million jobs saved, based on his own adjustments to other researchers' work at MIT and elsewhere.

Officials in Trump’s own administration give varying explanations for the 51 million figure. In interviews with Reuters, officials from the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration(SBA), which oversee the PPP program, said the 51 million refers to the total number of workers reported by businesses approved for a loan - not the number of jobs that were saved.

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow gave some support to that assessment in an interview with Reuters, saying he surmised the jobs figure was the sum of all jobs at businesses that received PPP loans.

“We saved a lot of jobs, there's no question about that," he said.

The PPP was part of some $3 trillion of bailout measures passed in the spring. At the time, there was little debate that funding was needed for small businesses as the economic blows from COVID-19 hit the United States.

Since then, congressional Democrats have challenged the data on the program, released by the administration in July. “We’ve seen some inaccuracies with the data in terms of how they calculate how many jobs were protected and saved,” said New Jersey Democratic representative Andy Kim in August, who sits on the Small Business Committee.

An economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation also questioned the figures. "This data does not tell us how many of those jobs may have existed without the PPP loans. Additionally, everyone involved has an incentive to use inflated estimates," said Adam Michel, senior policy analyst for fiscal policy at the foundation.

Michel, who has not analyzed the data himself, cited the same research that former Treasury official Prisinzano did - a paper co-authored by economists at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, MIT and ADP Research Institute. That study concluded that about 2.3 million jobs had been saved through early June.

White House economic adviser Kudlow said the Treasury and SBA had access to the list of companies and bank loans, and they made the calculations.

“You had to put on the form how many employees you have when you're applying for the loan," he said. “My guess is they added them up.”

NUMERICAL DISCREPANCIES

The uncertainty surrounding the 51 million figure was fueled by a discrepancy between the information the SBA asked lenders to gather from borrowers and the information it asked those same lenders to enter into its loan processing portal.

The SBA asked lenders only to gather each borrower’s number of employees, but when lenders subsequently processed the loan in the SBA portal, the agency also asked for the “number of jobs retained.” Lenders often put the number of employees into the portal's "jobs retained" box, according to numerous people familiar with the process. Skewing the numbers in the other direction, some lenders left “jobs retained” blank or put in zero, the people said.

Both the SBA and Treasury made officials available to speak with Reuters about the PPP on condition that they not be named.

The senior Treasury official said the 51 million figure was not just a sum of the job totals at recipient companies; it was supported by economic modeling as well. However, he added, “we can't with any kind of certainty say that all 51 million of those would have otherwise lost their job.”

Because the figure isn’t a count of jobs saved, the official added, “we've been careful to always use the word ‘jobs reported’ or ‘jobs supported’ by the program.”

The SBA official confirmed that, when borrowers filled out their applications, they supplied “just the number of employees. It wasn’t jobs retained.”

On Aug. 21, a week after Reuters interviewed the administration officials, the SBA appended a note to its monthly loan tallies, saying that to enhance accuracy the SBA would for now label data as jobs reported, not jobs retained.

Also on Aug. 21, the Small Business Administration reissued the full PPP dataset, fixing some of the problems that appeared when it was first made public in July. But the data still had holes. About 84,850 loans for amounts at $150,000 or above, had a zero in the jobs reported column, or the column was left blank. That problem applied to about 13% of loans at that amount.

The administration will have to wait until businesses apply for loan forgiveness to get a solid estimate of how many jobs were saved, economists and officials said.

'THE JOBS PRESIDENT'

Nailing down the numbers with the Trump campaign also remains difficult. Pressed for details on the 51 million figure Tuesday, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in an email that "the PPP protected American companies which collectively employ 51 million Americans."

That’s different from what the campaign claimed the day before on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TrumpWarRoom/status/1297940273184624649) , when it posted a note saying, "President Trump's Paycheck Protection Program saved 51 MILLION jobs."

An animated “counter” ticked rapidly from one million to 51 million just below the message: "He's the Jobs President and he's fighting for YOU!"

(Lawrence Delevingne reported from Boston; Chris Prentice, Michelle Price and Jeff Mason from Washington, D.C. Contributing were Koh Gui Qing from New York and Pete Schroeder from Washington, D.C. Editing by Tom Lasseter Julie Marquis)

Trump says he saved 51 million jobs in pandemic. Economists, U.S. officials say otherwise
 

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Comments (8)
Jon Benton
Jon Benton Aug 29, 2020 7:51PM ET
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With the U.S economy looking crappy except the stock market and all the U.S companies going Euro whered he save the job at im Europe ?!
Jon Benton
Jon Benton Aug 27, 2020 8:34PM ET
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lets ask the farmers and coal miners. Those Jobs came from those dead of covid !
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Aug 27, 2020 11:27AM ET
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Everybody lies n some r blatantly lying
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Aug 27, 2020 11:23AM ET
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All my managers n some high paying coworkers do that. Take credit, pass work, n blame others. It is all about “me” if u want to get rich.
Jo Va
Jo Va Aug 27, 2020 9:20AM ET
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Right.... according to him he also made a perfect phone call, didn't pay off a ***star, and is a stable genius with unmatched wisdom. What fools' listen to a word of the lies he spews anymore?
Me comment
Me comment Aug 27, 2020 8:32AM ET
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Lying is not a christian value but Trump doesn't care.
Jo Va
Jo Va Aug 27, 2020 8:32AM ET
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Neither is fornication but that never stopped him.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Aug 27, 2020 8:32AM ET
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Jo Va  well, apparently most devout Christians don't care about the christian values as well, as long as Trump keeps appointing conservative judges........First a pandemic, now a hurricane at the same day of the acceptance speech, you don't thing God is trying to tell them something? I mean, he must be thinking, what else do I have to do for you guys to take the freaking hint???!!!???
Jo Va
Jo Va Aug 27, 2020 8:32AM ET
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Tre Hsi Few are paying attention. They're more interested in trumps reality show that provides the simple minded with drama, conflict, and "exciting entertainment". There will come a day of reckoning when he'll have to answer for his acts but until then our nation will suffer as long as he's in the WH.
Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards Aug 27, 2020 8:13AM ET
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I only wish there was this same level of scrutiny over our previous president’s claim of all those shovel ready jobs.
Ah Chew
Ah Chew Aug 27, 2020 7:42AM ET
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Stating numbers without facts has becomes a norm.. Anyone can be celebrities as long as they have only 1 follower..
Jack Zhang
Jack_A Aug 27, 2020 7:42AM ET
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the administration is liar group, emperor without clothes
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Aug 27, 2020 7:42AM ET
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remember he said back in 2016 that the real unemployment rate was 43%?
 
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