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Politifact Virginia: Bernie Sanders Rallies in Richmond

Man holding microphone
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at an event in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

By Warren Fiske and Louis Jacobson

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, campaigned in Richmond on Thursday. He made renewed calls for social and economic fairness during a 40-minute speech to an estimated 4,700 people at the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center.

PolitiFact has fact-checked many of the claims Sanders made in his speech. Here’s a rundown:

“83% of the benefits of Trump’s tax proposal over a 10-year period go to the top 1% .

This has been a Democratic talking point for a few years, and it’s misleading.

It’s based on a 2017 study by the non-profit Tax Policy Center, which created a model looking at the effect of the tax cuts in three different years. In only one of those years - 2027 - did 83% of the tax cuts go to the top percent of taxpayers.

In 2018, an estimated 21% of the benefits went to the top 1%. In 2025, an estimated 25% will go to the top percent.

Why the shift?

Congress in 2017 passed a 10-year tax cut. Most of the reductions for individuals are scheduled to end after 2025. That leaves corporate tax cuts for the remaining years, which mostly helps top earners.

The law favors the well-to-do, but not nearly as much as Sanders says. The claim has been rated Half True.

“Together, we are going to end the embarrassment of the United States being the only major country in the world not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a right.”

Sanders is referring to the 35 industrialized nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD does not include Russia and China, whom many people would consider to be major nations.

A 2014 OECD report lists the U.S. and Mexico as the only members that don’t have universal coverage. Mexico has passed a law working to that end.

But Sanders gets on thin ice when he says all the other countries guarantee health care as a right. Most European nations have signed the European Social Charter, which establishes health care as a right. But some of the member nations, while providing universal coverage, operate under no legal claim that healthcare is a right.

PolitiFact has rated this claim Half True.

“Today in America, we are spending about double (on health care) what other countries are spending - about $11,000 per man, woman and child.

An OECD study estimates U.S. health care costs in 2018 were $10,586 per person. The next highest was Switzerland, at $7,317. U.S. health care costs per person were at least double of all but six of the 35 OECD countries.

“We in America pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”

Studies suggest the U.S., for various reasons, has higher prescription drug costs than other advanced, industrialized nations. But it’s an exaggeration to say no other country is close.

The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health policy group, compared a basket of common drugs in the U.S.States and several comparable countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. Using the American cost as a benchmark of 100, Germany’s costs rated 95 and Switzerland rated 88. However, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia were all about half the cost in the United States.

The U.S. has “more people in jail than any other country in the world, including China.”

This is accurate, according to World Prison Brief, a project of the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research and the University of London’s Birkbeck College.

The U.S. had 2.12 million imprisoned people, compared to 1.65 million for China, which ranked second. On a per capita basis, the United States also ranked first in the world, ahead of El Salvador and Turkmenistan; China ranked 113rd on a per capita basis.

“The American people are tired of women earning, on the average, 80-cents on the dollar compared to men.”

This is more complicated than it sounds. The median earnings for men and women who worked full-time, year-round were $55,291 and $45,097, respectively, according to 2018 Census Bureau data. In other words, women made 81.6 cents on the dollar compared to men.

However, that is not the figure for "equal work" — the gender discrepancy reflects the professions, seniority, and hours worked by the two sexes, whether by choice or by historical patterns, such as discrimination. Attempts to measure the gap between men and women doing equivalent work have shown a narrower difference, though it depends heavily on the specific profession in question.

“Three people in America (own) more wealth than the bottom half of our society.”

PolitiFact has rated this True.

Sanders bases his claim on a 2017 study by the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. It used Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans and data from a gold-standard federal government source on wealth. 

The study found that the three wealthiest individuals were Bill Gates of Microsoft with $89 billion, Jeff Bezos of Amazon with $81.5 billion and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway with $78 billion.

Their total wealth of $248.5 billion was higher than the wealth of the bottom 160 million Americans, at $245 billion.

Warren Fiske is editor of PolitiFact Virginia.

Louis Jacobson is the senior correspondent for PolitiFact National.