PoliGraph: Sanders claims about inequality


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., brought his populist message to Minneapolis last Sunday.

His speech, which he gave to mark the start of his campaign here, focused largely on income inequality.

PoliGraph looked at two statements Sanders made and found that, while Sanders tends toward hyperbole, his claims were mostly backed by facts.

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“In America today, we have more income and wealth inequality than any other major industrialized country on earth.”

This line is standard fare in Sanders’ speeches, and not too long ago, FactCheck.org said it was an exaggeration.

Since then, Sanders has fine-tuned his rhetoric a bit, saying America has the worst income and wealth inequality of any other industrialized nation on earth.

By adding that qualifier, Sanders comes closer to the truth, but a lot depends on how you define industrialized countries.

A Sanders spokesman pointed to a recent CNN article that said Israel and the U.S. are at the top of the list when it comes to income inequality. Other rankings put the U.S. in a similar position.

According a report by the Credit Suisse Research, the U.S. is near the top of wealth inequality, too.

But using a list of “advanced” or industrialized nations from the World Factbook, which is published by the Central intelligence Agency, the U.S. is outranked by Turkey and Hong Kong.

Different sources use different standards for defining industrialized nations and income inequality, but Sanders is mostly correct in his statement: The U.S. is near the top of income and wealth inequality rankings when it comes to industrialized nations.

“The truth is that unemployment in America is not 5.4 percent…. If you include those people who have given up looking for work, and those people who are working part time, real unemployment in America today is close to 11 percent.”

Sanders is right that national unemployment is 5.4 percent.

And Sanders is correct that the national unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.

For instance, the official unemployment rate doesn’t include people who are discouraged from looking for work, or who are marginally attached to the work force.

Those people are captured in a separate statistic that also includes people who are working part-time but say they would like to be working more. Right now, this figure is roughly 11 percent.

Politicians on the left and right have often pointed to the “U-6,” the technical term used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the “real” unemployment rate.

But the BLS routinely pushes back on that description in part because it does include people who are employed part time.

Sanders is clearly using a higher number to make a political point. But what he does get right is the fact that the U.S. employment outlook is more complicated than just one number. And the U-6 is a legitimate figure sometimes used by politicians and economists to paint a broader picture of economy.

As a result, this part of Sanders speech leans toward accurate as well.