Biden cites erroneous inflation statistic to make his case about the economy

CLAIM: Inflation was at 9% when President Joe Biden took the oath of office in January 2021.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Inflation was at 1.4% in 2021 as Biden assumed the presidency, having risen from a low of 0.1% in May 2020, two months into the COVID-19 pandemic. It continued to increase steadily in the first 17 months of Biden’s presidency, reaching a peak of 9.1% in June 2022. Data released today shows that as of last month, it had fallen to 3.4%.

THE FACTS: Biden has twice cited this number, which is drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, in the past week, first in a CNN interview on May 8 and again during an interview with Yahoo Finance on Tuesday.

“No president has had the run we’ve had in terms of creating jobs and bringing down inflation,” the president said during the CNN interview, in response to a question about turning the economy around. “It was 9% when I came to office, 9%.”

Asked why U.S. households don’t currently “feel wealthy,” Biden repeated the claim in the Yahoo Finance interview.

“I think inflation has gone slightly up,” he said. “It was at 9% when I came in and it’s now down around 3%.”

But inflation was nowhere near 9% when Biden took the oath of office in January 2021. It was actually at 1.4% that month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Asked about the discrepancy, a White House official told The Associated Press in an email that “the President was making the point that the factors that caused inflation were in place when he took office,” adding that “the pandemic caused inflation around the world by disrupting our economy and breaking our supply chains.”

Inflation fell from 2.5% in January 2020 to a low of 0.1% in May 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. It was already rising when Biden entered the White House and continued to do so until June 2022, when it hit 9.1%, the largest 12-month increase in approximately 40 years.

Data from last month, which was released today, puts inflation at 3.4%. It was unexpectedly high in the first three months of this year after having steadily dropped in the second half of 2023, reaching a new low of 3%. However, the AP has reported that the most recent numbers provide a dose of reassurance that the pace of consumer price increases may be resuming its slowdown, even though they still remain generally well above their pre-pandemic levels.

“Reopening after the pandemic unavoidably caused inflation by unleashing pent-up demand,” the White House official wrote, pointing to the Russia-Ukraine war and pandemic-related lockdowns in China as additional contributing factors.

Voters’ confidence in the economy could be a pivotal factor in this year’s presidential election, as it is consistently rated as a top issue, according to the AP.
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared false and misleading information that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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