AP FACT CHECK: In Republican debate, flubs and funny numbers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ben Carson botched the economic effect of minimum wage increases. Jeb Bush again pitched a dubious target for economic growth. And Marco Rubio, in a tale about plumbers and philosophers, undersold the value of a college education.

The fourth Republican presidential debate was thick on economic policy — and with that came a variety of flubs and funny numbers.

Some of the claims Tuesday night and how they compare with the facts:

CARSON: "Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases."

THE FACTS: Actually, that usually doesn't happen. When the minimum wage was increased in 1996 and 1997, the unemployment rate fell afterward. In June 2007, when the first of three annual minimum wage increases was implemented, the unemployment rate was unchanged until the Great Recession began six months later.

Economic research has found that when states raise their minimum wages higher than neighboring states, they don't typically fare any worse than their neighbors.

It's not known, though, what would happen to jobs if the minimum wage were doubled to $15— as many fast-food workers who demonstrated before the debate were demanding.

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RUBIO: "Welders make more money than philosophers."

Not so, on average.

Rubio is arguing that the U.S. has failed to invest in vocational training — a point also stressed by President Barack Obama's now-defunct jobs council. But Rubio is wrong to suggest that studying philosophy is a waste of money and time.

PayScale, a firm that analyzes compensation, put the median mid-career income for philosophy majors at $81,200 in 2008, with welders making $26,002 to $63,698.

And Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce said in a 2014 analysis that median incomes were $68,000 for people with an advanced degree in philosophy or religious studies.

So knowing Plato and getting a college degree still pays off.

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JEB BUSH: "We could get to 4 percent growth."

THE FACTS: That's a highly improbable target because of forces in the economy that are beyond the control of any president.

Those forces have been decades in the making: an exodus from the workforce of the huge generation of baby boomers, rising automation and low-wage competition overseas. Those factors and more have limited income growth, which in turn cuts into the consumer spending that drives most economic growth.

Bush frequently holds out hope of 4 percent growth, but even conservative economists who like his fiscal and tax plans consider it a false hope. According to current forecasts, growth is expected to average roughly half that rate.

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TED CRUZ: Since 2008, the economy has grown on average only 1.2 percent a year, showing "the Obama economy is a disaster."

THE FACTS: That average is correct as far as it goes, but it masks the fact that Obama inherited a raging recession in his first year, when the economy shrank by 2.5 percent. In the five years since, the economy expanded an average of 2 percent, more than Cruz's figure but still a relatively weak recovery in historical terms.