Fact-checking the State of the Union Address

The following is a review of some of the claims delivered by President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

"Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades."

Wages rose 3.1 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, according to the Labor Department's Employment Cost Index for civilian workers. That is the biggest increase since the year that ended in December 2008. Adjusted for inflation, wages for all workers grew 1.3 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, making the increase only the largest since August 2016.

"Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars."

Treasury data shows that there was an increase of $6.7 billion in customs duties collected in the fiscal year that ended in September, and it's possible most of the increase is due to tariffs. But the exporters do not pay the tariffs; it is the importer, who in turn passes it onto to consumers. A study by the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that 115 percent of the money raised from tariffs is being used by the administration to aid farmers hurt by the tariffs, so it's a net loser.

"We virtually ended the estate, or death, tax on small businesses, ranchers, and family farms."

This is an enormous stretch. Trump often claims he saved family farms and small businesses by gradually reducing the federal estate tax. Reducing the estate tax primarily benefits the wealthy. The estate tax rarely falls on farms or small businesses, since only those leaving behind more than $5 million pay it. According to the Tax Policy Center, nearly 5,500 estates in 2017 - out of nearly 3 million - were subject to the tax. Of those, only 80 taxable estates would be farms and small businesses.

“The lawless state of our Southern Border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens."

By any available measure, there is no new security crisis at the border.

Apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border peaked most recently at 1.6 million in 2000 and have been in decline since, falling to just under 400,000 in fiscal 2018. The decline is partly because of technology upgrades; tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; a decline in migration rates from Mexico; and a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol officers.

The fiscal 2018 number was up from just over 300,000 apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border for fiscal 2017, the lowest level in more than 45 years. There are far more cases of travelers overstaying their visas.

"The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime, one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities."

This claim is wrong. The El Paso Times said some form of barrier has existed between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez for decades, though Trump appeared to be referring to fencing that was completed in mid-2009. The city had the third lowest violent crime rate among 35 U.S. cities with a population over 500,000 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 — before construction of a 57-mile-long fence started in mid-2008.

"Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities — including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl."

Most drugs come into the United States across the southern border with Mexico. But a wall would not necessarily stanch the flow, as much of these drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry or underground tunnels. Trump mentioned meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl but leaves out that the death toll from drug abuse is mostly attributable to prescription drug overdoses, which claim more lives than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined.

The Washington Post's Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly compiled this report.

 

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