Multiple 2020 Democratic candidates are scrambling to put a negative spin on the state of the economy, with some resorting to incorrect or overblown suggestions that workers have to hold down two or three jobs to merely “survive” in the U.S.
Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke – all three leading Democrats running for the party’s presidential nomination -- have claimed in some form that workers are struggling in the economy that has so far defied odds with a historically low unemployment rate.
"Yeah, well, I’ve been traveling our country. People are working. They’re working two and three jobs to pay the bills. It’s not working for working people."
“[They say] ‘the economy is great, it is doing great for everybody.’ And then you ask them, well, how is that? Well, they’ll point to the stock market. Well, that’s fine if you own stocks. Then you’ll ask them, what’s your other measure? And they’ll talk about well, the unemployment rate is down. That’s fine,” Harris reportedly said on the campaign trail.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been traveling our country. People are working. They’re working two and three jobs to pay the bills. It’s not working for working people,” she added.
But as the Washington Post’s fact checker notes, Harris’ much-repeated talking point appears not to be backed up by the data as the number of people working two or more jobs is particularly small and is decreasing.
Only 251,000 workers out of a total 156 million people with jobs had two full-time jobs last month. This is a decline of nearly 100,000 such people compared to last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In general, there are 7.8 million people who have more than one job.
Sanders, the leading Democrat in the polls so far, has also come under scrutiny after saying last week that “Millions of Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive.”
While his claim is less inaccurate when compared to Harris, according to the Post, he misrepresents the data and omits that the millions of people who indeed have more than one job are mostly working part-time rather than full-time.
In fact, merely 5 percent of the total American workforce holds more than one job, which isn’t the impression Sanders wanted to make by his comments.
“Millions of Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive.”
At the same time, O’Rourke, the much-adored Democrat from El Paso, Texas, who’s been criticized for often shying away from policy specifics, made a blunder similar to those of Sanders and Harris.
“I have already shared with you that many are working second or third jobs — in fact in Texas, half of your colleagues are working a second or third job just to put food on the table,” he said in Iowa last week.
The fact checker points out that in this instance, O’Rourke and his team insisted that his claim was related to teachers rather than general workforce, yet even then the Democrat appears to use a dubious self-selected survey from Texas that found 39 percent of teachers expect to take extra jobs outside the classroom to meet family expenses.
At the same time, a U.S. Department of Education study that uses a representative random sample showed that 17 percent of teachers in the South, and 18 percent nationwide, had to boost their income with a job outside their schoolwork, the Post reported.
This is significantly lower than O’Rourke’s claim that “half” of the teachers are working second or third jobs just to get by.
The Democrats’ negative spin on the economy in relation to people working more than one job was first tested by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an interview with PBS where she suggested the unemployment rate is low thanks to people holding several jobs.
“Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family,” she said.
The comments were called out by fact-checkers, with the Post awarding her Four Pinocchios.
Yet 2020 Democrats appear to have learned from the episode to avoid directly linking people holding more than one job to the low unemployment rate.