Fact-check: Biden chief of staff says he inherited slow job growth, '4,000' COVID deaths per day

Posted November 17, 2021 4:26 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2021 10:24 p.m. EST

Just days after Democrats suffered a setback by losing the Virginia gubernatorial race, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press" to paint a more optimistic picture for President Joe Biden and his party.

On the Nov. 7 show, Klain favorably compared the administration’s stewardship of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic with that of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The Biden administration, Klain said, inherited gains of "50,000 jobs a month. We're now finally back to 500,000 jobs a month. We inherited a country where 4,000 people a day were dying from COVID. That's now down 75%."

These two metrics have improved under Biden, but Klain exaggerated the numbers on the difference between the records of the two presidents.

Job growth figures

First, we looked at the monthly change in nonfarm employment during the five months prior to the first full jobs report on Biden’s watch. Those were September, October November, and December 2020, and January 2021. (Trump and Biden effectively shared responsibility for the January 2021 figures.)

During one of those months — December 2020 — employment shrank, by 306,000 jobs. In the other four, employment increased, and by a lot more than 50,000. It rose by 716,000 in September 2020, 680,000 in October 2020, 264,000 in November 2020, and 233,000 in January 2021.

All told, the average gain during those five months, even including the big drop in December, was a bit over 321,000 per month, or more than six times what Klain said.

After Biden took office, the job gains did increase. From February 2021 to October 2021, the average monthly gain was 620,000, or almost twice the rate during Trump’s last five months.

The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article, but we suspect Klain’s comparison was based on initial job figures for January 2021 that were reported on Feb. 5. The initial figures suggested that jobs increased by only 49,000.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agency that tabulates the official employment data, revises the data in later months, so the final figures usually differ from the initial release.

In this case, the BLS revised the January 2021 figure upwards from 49,000 to 233,000, or almost five times larger than the initial figure that Klain appeared to be citing. (The October 2021 gain of 531,000 that Klain touted will also be revised either downward or upward over the next few months.)

Even if we use the initial January 2021 figure of 49,000, that would ignore some significantly stronger figures during the fall of 2020. The initial, unrevised employment gains released by the BLS were 661,100 in September; 638,000 in October; and 245,000 for November.

Coronavirus death statistics

Klain exaggerated the degree of improvement on COVID-19 as well.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data compiled by the Washington Post shows that the seven-day rolling average for daily coronavirus deaths on Jan. 20 — when Biden was sworn in — was 3,065.

On Nov. 7, the day Klain appeared on "Meet the Press," the equivalent figure was 1,185. That’s a decrease of 61%, or less than the 75% decline that Klain cited.

Here, too, we think we know where Klain was getting his number. On Jan. 20, there were 4,400 coronavirus deaths. However, there are variations in when coronavirus deaths are reported, with the figures typically dropping on weekends when many public health offices are closed. So researchers recommend using a seven-day rolling average, which counts the previous seven days in order to smooth out the variations in data reporting.

For this reason, it’s not unusual for a weekday — like Jan. 20, which was a Wednesday — to have a higher death total than the seven-day rolling average. In fact, the seven-day rolling average has never exceeded about 3,300 deaths per day during the entire pandemic.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Half-true

Klain said the Biden administration inherited gains of "50,000 jobs a month. We're now finally back to 500,000 jobs a month. We inherited a country where 4,000 people a day were dying from COVID. That's now down 75%."

The Biden administration can trumpet gains in both areas, but they are not as dramatic as Klain said.

The job gains under Biden are almost twice as big as they were late in the Trump administration, not 10 times bigger. And the rate of coronavirus deaths has fallen by 61%, not 75%, on Biden’s watch.

We rate the statement Half True.

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