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Democratic debate: CNN’s Reality Check team inspects the claims

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Posted at 9:36 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-11 23:36:15-05
CNN’s Reality Check Team

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Democratic candidates for president gathered in Milwaukee on Thursday for their sixth debate, and CNN’s Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the debate, selecting key statements and rating them either true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it’s complicated.

Bernie Sanders

Reality Check: Sanders on African-American youth unemployment

By Tami Luhby, CNN

Bernie Sanders once again grossly exaggerated when talking about African-American youth unemployment.

“Who denies that African-American youth unemployment, real, is over 50%,” Sanders said in Thursday night’s Democratic debate.

There is certainly an employment crisis among minority youth. But it’s not just an issue of unemployment, but of underemployment. It’s an inaccurate claim Sanders has made many times.

The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute last year found that 51.3% of black and 36.1% Hispanic high school graduates, age 17 to 20, were underemployed. That means they either don’t have a job, aren’t working as many hours as they would like or aren’t currently looking for work but would like a job.

The comparable number for whites was 33.8%.

The official unemployment rate for black youth, age 16 to 24, is 14.9%. For Hispanic youth, it’s 11.6%, while for white youth, it’s 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government data is not limited to high school graduates and has a wider age range.

By comparison, the overall national unemployment rate is 4.9%

Our Verdict: False

Sanders on mass incarceration of African-Americans

By Marshall Cohen, CNN

Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about criminal justice reform Thursday night, and said mass incarceration of minorities was “one of the great tragedies in our country today.”

He went on to assert that “a male African-American baby born today stands a 1 in 4 chance of ending up in jail.”

Are the numbers really that high? In fact, according to the Sentencing Project, the numbers are more staggering than Sanders claimed.

The nonprofit, which researches racial disparities in the criminal justice system, released a report in 2013 with a stark conclusion: “If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.” That report was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The NAACP, on its website, also includes these same figures on mass incarceration.

There is some question over the freshness of these statistics — some of the conclusions in the Sentencing Project report are based on studies that are 15 years old and there are criminal sentencing reforms happening in many states that may make a difference. But the underlying claim is not an assertion of fact, it is a projection based on historical trends.

So, if anything, based on the existing projections, Sanders understated the likelihood of African Americans ending up in jail.

Verdict: True

Reality Check: Sanders on super PACs

By Kevin Bohn

Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly rails on the influences of super PACs during his campaign appearances.

“We had a decision to make early on. Do we do a super PAC?… we said no. We don’t represent Wall Street. We don’t represent the billionaire class,” Sanders said during the debate. “I’m the only candidate up here of the many candidates, who has no super PAC.”

First, let’s define what a super PAC is. No candidate can control a super PAC, although it can support a candidate so long as there is no coordination with the campaign. It can raise unlimited amounts for a candidate, but cannot work in conjunction with that person’s campaign on strategy and must disclose its donors.

Hillary Clinton has several super PACs supporting her candidacy, including Priorities USA Action and Correct the Record, which are run by her allies. Through December of last year, Priorities had raised $41 million and CTR had brought in $3.4 million according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Clinton pointed out during the debate the super PAC originally supported Obama four years ago, Priorities, which now backs her saying “It’s not my PAC” although she is the only candidate it is working to elect.

There is also an organization backed by a nurses union that has registered as a super PAC — National Nurses United which is now supporting Sanders. It was formed in 2010 and has backed other candidates but is a major supporter of Sanders this campaign.

A spokesman for the group, Charles Idelson, draws distinctions between it and those supporting Clinton since his organization does not take money from billionaires or Wall Street interests.

“This is totally funded by members’ dues,” he said.

It spent $1.36 million through the end of last year with its money dedicated to engaging in grassroots activities, such as sponsoring buses with its members in the key early voting states. Idelson also pointed Nurses United is working to further some of the issues it prioritizes — health care, college affordability, climate change — which dovetail with Sanders’ positions rather than just overall generally supporting a candidate.

While the groups supporting Clinton are solely dedicated to backing her candidacy, supporting Sanders is not the only cause for National Nurses United and its leadership are not long-time Sanders allies or staffers.

Sanders has made clear he does not want the support of a super PAC, while Clinton generally has criticized the influence of money in politics, but has not rejected these groups backing her.

Verdict on Sanders’ statement he has no super PAC: TRUE, BUT MISLEADING, since there is a super PAC supporting Sanders although he says he doesn’t want its backing.