Trump says saved 51m jobs, economists differ

Lawrence Delevingne, Chris Prentice, Michelle Price and Jeff Mason Standing before half a dozen American flags during a press conference at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, President Donald Trump heralded what has become a central plank of his argument for re-election in November: his administration’s handling of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Through the historic relief package that I signed into law, we saved over 50 million American jobs,” he said in the August 15 remarks. Referring to his Democratic opponents, he said, “They don’t like these kind of numbers because they think it’ll hurt them in the election.” The estimate that the $660 billion taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) saved some 51 million jobs has been trumpeted by the Republican Party, its Congressional leadership and the president’s reelection campaign. On Monday, Trump touted it again at a rally west of Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Republican National Convention.
However, the PPP likely did not save 51 million jobs, or anywhere close to it, according to Reuters interviews with economists and an analysis of the program’s data. Half a dozen economists put the number of jobs saved by the initiative at only a fraction of 51 million — ranging between one million and 14 million.
“I don’t think there is an economist who would say that the program has saved 50 million jobs,” said Richard Prisinzano, who was a financial economist at the US Department of the Treasury for 13 years before leaving in 2017. His rough estimate, Prisinzano said, is between five and seven million jobs saved, based on his own adjustments to other researchers’ work at MIT and elsewhere.
Officials in Trump’s own administration give varying explanations for the 51 million figure. In interviews with Reuters, officials from the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration(SBA), which oversee the PPP program, said the 51 million refers to the total number of workers reported by businesses approved for a loan — not the number of jobs that were saved.
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow gave some support to that assessment in an interview with Reuters, saying he surmised the jobs figure was the sum of all jobs at businesses that received PPP loans.
“We saved a lot of jobs, there’s no question about that,” he said.
The PPP was part of some $3 trillion of bailout measures passed in the spring. At the time, there was little debate that funding was needed for small businesses as the economic blows from COVID-19 hit the United States.
Since then, congressional Democrats have challenged the data on the program, released by the administration in July. “We’ve seen some inaccuracies with the data in terms of how they calculate how many jobs were protected and saved,” said New Jersey Democratic representative Andy Kim in August, who sits on the Small Business Committee.
An economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation also questioned the figures. “This data does not tell us how many of those jobs may have existed without the PPP loans. Additionally, everyone involved has an incentive to use inflated estimates,” said Adam Michel, senior policy analyst for fiscal policy at the foundation.
Michel, who has not analysed the data himself, cited the same research that former Treasury official Prisinzano did— a paper co-authored by economists at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, MIT and ADP Research Institute. That study concluded that about 2.3 million jobs had been saved through early June.
— Reuters