Fact check: Is Trump right on Saudi jobs?

Global outrage over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of an alleged Saudi Arabian hit squad has raised the heat on U.S. companies to justify doing business with the kingdom. President Donald Trump seemingly has fewer qualms, recently defending the countries’ commercial ties — especially when it comes to supplying Saudi Arabia with arms — by saying the relationship creates lots of U.S jobs.

But how many jobs? Mr. Trump said at an event last week that agreements between American defense contractors and Saudi Arabia account for 600,000 jobs in the U.S. We set out to verify if that number is correct.

Different day, different digits

As The Washington Post notes, part of the problem with assessing Mr. Trump’s claim about the purported employment gains of American companies doing business in Saudi Arabia is that those numbers keep growing.

In 2017, the White House said in a release that U.S. defense agreements with Saudi Arabia present “opportunities for American companies in the region, potentially supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.”

Last week, however, Mr. Trump told Fox Business News that U.S. defense contracts with Saudi Arabia valued by the White House at $110 billion that the contracts account for half a million U.S. jobs. Specifically, he said: “Again, I’ve had some senators come up and some congressmen that said, ‘Well, you know, sir, I think what we should do is we should not take that order.’ I said, ‘Who are we hurting? It’s 500,000 jobs.'”

Only days later, however, Mr. Trump told reporters at a roundtable that canceling the contracts would mean giving up on 1 million jobs, according to the Post.

Less than 400,000 defense jobs

A report by the Aerospace Industries Association found that in 2016 the U.S. defense and national security sector generated $146.7 billion in sales and supported a total of 355,500 jobs. Meanwhile, a tally of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors shows the companies have a total of fewer than 400,000 employees around the world. 

On its website, Boeing says its defense division employs about 32,000. The whole company, which includes commercial aircraft, had a total workforce of 140,800 last year, according to an SEC filing

Raytheon’s global workforce is about 64,000, according to a 2017 regulatory filing. Northrop Grumman has roughly 70,000 workers. General Dynamics, which also owns private aircraft maker Gulfstream, lists nearly 97,000 employees in a 2017 filing. And Lockheed Martin reports about 100,000 employees. 

The upshot: It’s hard to square the actual number of U.S. jobs supported by Saudi contracts with Mr. Trump’s more expansive figure.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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