CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Is West Virginia’s economy performing fantastically?
President Donald Trump made that claim this past week in a broad-ranging New York Times interview, describing an improved outlook for coal and rising gross domestic product. The president also took credit for the turnaround.
Trump was talking about Senator Joe Manchin’s reputation as a moderate when he then began to discuss West Virginia’s economy.
“I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know West Virginia is doing fantastically now,” Trump said.
In the transcript of The New York Times interview, Trump described significant progress for West Virginia.
TRUMP: It’s the biggest turnaround. West Virginia, their average, their G.D.P. is the biggest turnaround after Texas. Texas [inaudible]. … The second percentage gain in G.D.P. [Inaudible.] And I won that state by 43 points against crooked Hillary Clinton.”
Accounting for the hyperbole, Trump there’s some merit to what Trump said. West Virginia’s economy has been improving.
West Virginia’s gross domestic product gained positive national attention this past summer as it surged to 3 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But that growth percentage was possible because West Virginia’s economy had been so flat over the previous few years.
Any economic growth is going to be exaggerated, The Hill noted in an article about West Virginia’s GDP, because the state was starting from such a low point.
Starting from the bottom meant there has been a lot of room for improvement.
“West Virginia still has the lowest labor-force participation rate and employment-population ratio of any state. Its population was still shrinking as of July,” said Justin Fox, a columnist for Bloomberg View.
“It’s not doing great. But things have stopped getting worse, which is something.”
Fox wrote a column last spring called “The Limits of West Virginia’s Recent Comeback.”
Then, like now, he concluded that West Virginia’s economic situation has been improving — but it still has a long way to go.
Fox’s article discussed West Virginia’s workforce participation rate — long the worst in the nation but getting a little bit better — as well as an improving unemployment rate and some signs of life for coal.
His impressions were much the same this past Friday when he heard about Trump’s comments.
“I’m looking at the numbers now, and it is true that West Virginia had pretty great BDP growth in the second quarter (although it looks like it trailed not just Texas but a few other states too),” Fox said in an email exchange with MetroNews.
“To say WV is doing ‘fantastically’ is kind of ridiculous: state employment is up 0.2 percent since January, compared with 1.2 percent nationwide. But compared with the relentless declines from 2012 to 2016, that’s still good news.”
As for Trump taking credit for West Virginia’s economic situation, Fox described that as a bit of a gray area.
“I don’t know how much of that was Trump’s doing and how much of it was other factors (like the met-coal resurgence), but it certainly can’t hurt a state where coal mining is still a significant economic force to switch from an administration that was actively hostile to coal to one that isn’t.”
Demand for metallurgical coal, used in making steel, has provided some bounce for West Virginia’s economy.
That change, though, has been attributed to increased demand from China and a disruption in supplies from Australia after a cyclone.
West Virginia’s coal industry has described this as a period of stability, rather than as a boom.
The New York Times, in a followup fact-check to its original interview with Trump, acknowledged the coal industry had a bounce in the past year but described it as far from a comeback.
The number of coal jobs across the country was at 90,000 in January, 2012, and had fallen to 48,600 by September, 2016, the Times reported.
By this past September, job numbers rose back to 51,700 but then started to decline again.
Coal production, nationally, increased in the first quarter of 2017 but then started to fall in the second quarter.
The Washington Post took a look at similar Trump claims for a fact-check in November.
Trump described growth in West Virginia’s gross domestic product and, in separate sets of remarks on Fox News Radio and an interview with Sean Hannity, took credit for the state’s economic improvement.
“And I’ve turned West Virginia around, because of what I’ve done environmentally with coal,” the president said on Fox News Radio. “And I don’t know if you saw, but West Virginia is second to Texas in percentage increase of GDP.”
And on Hannity, he said:
“One thing that I am very proud of, the state of West Virginia. Last month, it was one of the highest percentage increases in GDP, the state of Texas beat it. And people are saying, wait a minute, West Virginia just came in second. Do you know what that is about? That is about cutting regulations and letting the people go and mine.”
The Post gave Trump four Pinocchios for the combined claims, meaning the fact-checkers concluded the claims were highly-exaggerated.
The fact-checkers agreed the Trump administration had made moves to loosen regulations on energy but said they weren’t the cause of West Virginia’s economic improvements because they hadn’t yet had time to take effect.
They found further fault with the timing of the president’s claims, which touted gross domestic product growth that occurred only a few months after he took office.
“Trump takes credit for West Virginia’s economic gains, but it’s undeserved,” the Post wrote.
“For one, when the first quarter ended on March 31, 2017, Trump was just two months into his presidency. While he was quick to do away with several regulations on energy production, many of the new policies have yet to take effect.”
The Post concluded that West Virginia deserves its own credit for economic momentum.
“Taking credit for economic advances where no credit is due seems to be a habit for Trump. He should be more careful not to overstate the effect of his administration’s policies when praising economic gains across the country. For trying to capitalize on the hard work of West Virginians, Trump earns Four Pinocchios.”
MetroNews Talkline Flash Poll: Pres Trump says, “I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know West Virginia is doing fantastically well now.”
— Hoppy Kercheval (@HoppyKercheval) December 29, 2017