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Biden touts ACA, makes murky claims on economy in metro Detroit stop

joe biden in a mask

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke at the Beech Woods Recreation Center in Southfield on Friday, touting his plans to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act, rebuild infrastructure and combat the continued spread of the coronavirus. He is to speak later Friday at a get-out-the-vote event in Detroit.  

In fact-checking the former vice president, his claims about health care and the auto bailout were mostly true, while his remarks on the health of the U.S. economy and manufacturing jobs got into murkier territory. 

Joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (who is in a tight race to keep his senate seat), Biden made the case that President Trump dramatically failed Michigan and the American people in failing to adequately combat the COVID-19 pandemic, while arguing that the Obama administration, of which he was a part, was responsible for the rebounding of the state’s auto industry. 

Biden’s visit came one day before the president planned to visit the state for a rally on Saturday. With just over two weeks until Election Day, both campaigns are flooding swing states like Michigan in a final push. 

Here’s where Biden hit, and where he missed, in his campaign remarks: 

Claim 1: The Affordable Care Act reduced the uninsured rate by 55 percent in Michigan

Biden often reminds audiences that it was the Obama administration, with him as vice president, that shepherded the Affordable Care Act into being in 2010. 

During his Southfield speech, he said that “after we passed Obamacare… we were able to reduce the uninsured rate by 55 percent here in Michigan.”

The facts 

According to Census Bureau data, 5.4 percent of Michigan residents were uninsured in 2018. In 2013, before most of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act came into effect, 11 percent of Michiganders weren’t covered. 

That’s a decrease of about 51 percent, making Biden’s estimate mostly accurate.

Claim 2: Obama and Biden rescued the auto industry, saving over 1 million jobs

Biden claimed that the 2009 bailout of the auto industry — which pumped around $80 billion in loans into Chrysler and General Motors — helped save the auto industry from collapse. 

“We stepped in and rescued the automobile industry, General Motors and Chrysler, saving over 1 million jobs by that one deal,” he said.

The facts 

Biden’s claim appears to be based on a 2013 report from the Center for Automotive Research. The Ann Arbor-based firm estimated the auto bailout saved at least 1.2 million jobs that would have been lost had GM and Chrysler shut down. 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew made a similar estimate in 2013, saying that without the bailout, the U.S. would have lost more than 1 million jobs and the Great Recession would have become a full-blown depression.

Claim 3: There was a nationwide manufacturing recession before the pandemic

“We were in a nationwide manufacturing recession before COVID struck” this year, Biden said. “We’re now down nearly 650,000 manufacturing jobs across the country now.”

The facts 

Politifact called similar claims last year by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren that the U.S. was in a manufacturing recession “half true.” 

Technically, manufacturing was in recession for part of 2019 because an industrial production index from the Federal Reserve fell in consecutive quarters. But the number of manufacturing jobs was climbing before the coronavirus pandemic hit this year.

The U.S. economy added about 483,000 manufacturing jobs between January 2017 and February 2020, including about 61,000 jobs in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

However, Biden is right that there have been about 661,000 manufacturing job losses since February as COVID-19 prompted business closures and economic shutdowns. 

Here in Michigan, manufacturing jobs were essentially flat in 2019. The state has lost about 61,700 manufacturing jobs since February.

Claim 4: Trump has incentivized companies to send jobs abroad

One of President Donald Trump’s big promises from the campaign trail in 2016 was to draw companies and jobs back to the U.S. But Biden claimed Friday that in the trade deals Trump passed since taking office, “he incentivized people to send jobs abroad.”

The facts

The Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit group tracking job movement to and from the U.S., found in 2018 that nearly 145,000 factory jobs had been relocated to the U.S. during Trump’s first two years in office. 

It’s not clear how many of those jobs returned to the U.S. because of Trump’s policies. Fewer than 30,000 of those came from companies that said they’d relocate because of Trump’s tariffs on imported materials and goods. 

A more recent report from researchers at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney found that Trump’s trade policies — including tariffs on China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union — pushed manufacturing away from China. But it also found those jobs went to other Asian countries like Vietnam that provide services at lower costs, rather than the United States. The Economic Policy Institute has found that Trump failed to reverse years of offshoring with his trade policies.

Still, Kearney researchers noted that domestic manufacturing in the U.S. in 2019 was gaining a greater share of the global industry than it had five years ago.

Claim 5: Trump’s own advisers estimated mask-wearing could save 100,000 U.S. lives

Biden has said that, as president, he would put in place a national mask mandate. It’s unclear whether he has the legal authority to do that, but in Southfield he drew a contrast between his commitment to wearing a mask in public with Trump lampooning him for doing so.

“It’s estimated by [Trump’s] own folks if we just wore masks nationally almost 100,000 lives would be saved in the next few months,” he said. 

The facts

It wasn’t one of Trump’s own advisers that estimated how many lives could be saved if people wore masks, but former CDC Director under Obama, Tom Frieden. He tweeted last month that more than 100,000 deaths could have been prevented with social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing. 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which the Trump administration sometimes uses for projections, estimated in August that 70,000 lives could be saved by consistent mask-wearing.

Mansur Shaheen contributed to this report.

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