2018 Growth Was a Sad 2.5%

I’m a little late to this, but petty gotchas are always worth airing even if they aren’t on time. I would like you to cast your memories back to February 28, when the initial GDP report for 2018 was released. Sadly for President Trump, it showed GDP growth of 2.9 percent, just below his promised goal of 3 percent. But no problem! The White House simply used a different measure of GDP growth and insisted that it was the correct one:

How did they get 3.1 percent growth? Normally, you measure GDP growth year over year. That is, you calculate GDP in 2017 and GDP in 2018 and then divide to get the growth rate. But the Trumpies instead compared Q4 of 2018 to Q4 of 2017. Nobody ever does it this way, but any port in a storm. It produced the number they wanted, so they insisted this was the right way to measure it.

But Friday brought bad news. Apparently Q4 growth was a lot worse than we thought. Using the final GDP numbers, here’s what we get:

Oof. Growth was only 2.5 percent in 2018. This is the White House’s own preferred measure of economic growth, so I suppose they’ll just have to accept it. That goes for Fox News and everyone else, too. I’m sure their intellectual standards are too high to simply deny they ever used this metric and stick to their old numbers.

UPDATE: I orginally said the White House “invented” a new measure of GDP. That went too far. They simply chose to emphasize a measure that made them look as good as possible.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.