In his Democratic National Convention address, former President Bill Clinton took a shot at President Donald Trump’s economic record during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the 45th president has botched his handling of the twin health and economic crises.
“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world,” Clinton said. “Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple. ”
Using the most clear-cut multi-nation comparison — comparing January to June 2020 — Clinton is right.
We turned to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a think tank whose members are advanced industrialized countries. The group collects economic statistics for all its members, including unemployment rates. We chose 20 countries for which data was available, including most of the countries in western Europe, plus Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Israel.
For consistency’s sake, we compared January to June because only two of the countries had yet reported data for July.
As the following chart shows, the United States was among the few countries to show a dramatic increase in the unemployment rate between January and June. The U.S. rate is the peach-colored line with the steep climb; you can see each country highlighted if you hover over the list of countries at the bottom.
The U.S. saw its unemployment rate increase from 3.6% to 11.1%. That works out to a little under 3.1 times higher in June than January.
No other country saw such a big increase.
The only other nation that saw its unemployment rate more than double over that period was Canada, which saw its rate increase 2.2 times. Canada actually had a higher unemployment rate in June than the U.S. did, at 12.3%, but the scale of Canada’s increase was more modest than that of the U.S. because Canada had a higher rate to start, at 5.5%.
Using U.S. data for February instead of January doesn’t change the picture much. The U.S. unemployment rate in February was 3.5%, making the increase through June about 3.2 times.
There are a couple asterisks to Clinton’s statement.
If you compare January to July, a month for which data isn’t available for most of the OECD nations, the increase in the U.S. was still substantial but just short of three times higher. The unemployment rate rose from 3.6% in January to 10.2% in July, meaning an increase of 2.8 times.
It’s also worth noting that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen for three straight months, amid a zigzagging reopening and a volatile economy. So the unemployment rate is likely to bounce around a bit before it settles down.
Clinton said the U.S. is “the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple” since the coronavirus pandemic began.
That’s accurate for the broadest comparison — a 20-nation selection of OECD nations between January 2020 and June 2020. The rate in the U.S. was 3.1 times higher in June than in January. Only Canada came close, with the unemployment rate 2.2 times higher over that period.
The caveat is that extending the U.S. data to July showed that the increase fell slightly below three times.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
Bill Clinton, remarks at the Democratic convention, Aug. 18, 2020
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, national unemployment rates, accessed Aug. 18, 2020
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, unemployment rate, accessed Aug. 18, 2020