The Pace of Job Growth by Presidential Term

Monthly Job Gains by Presidential Term - Total

Paul Krugman in a post today on his blog notes that the continued claim by Reaganites that job growth during Reagan’s presidential term was especially strong, is a myth.  With a chart such as the one above (which copies his), Krugman notes that monthly net job gains were in fact higher during the presidential terms of Carter and Clinton.  (The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).)

This is true.  He also could have gone further.  The record during recent presidential terms differs from the myths pushed by conservatives not only in terms of total job growth, but also in terms of how the net job growth breaks down between private and public sector jobs.  Obama is far from a socialist.

Looking first at private sector jobs:

Monthly Job Gains by Presidential Term - Private

Monthly net private sector job gains are again highest under Clinton and Carter; private jobs in fact fell under Bush II; and growth was quite modest under Bush I.  Reagan comes in after Clinton and Carter.  They have averaged a growth of a bit over 86,000 per month so far under Obama, but more on this below.

Private jobs fell under Bush II even though total jobs rose by a small amount during his term because public sector job growth added to his totals, and were sufficient to make overall job growth under Bush II slightly positive.  Looking at the figures for all of the presidential terms:

Monthly Job Gains by Presidential Term - Public

Public sector jobs include jobs at all government levels (federal, state, and local).  State and local jobs dominate – they currently account for 88% of total public sector jobs.  The story on federal government jobs only can differ, and has been discussed in an earlier post on this blog.  Note also the difference in the scales in the charts for the public sector jobs vs. the charts for private (and overall) jobs.  There are far fewer public sector jobs than private ones in the US economy.

What is striking in this chart is the absolute fall in public sector jobs during Obama’s term.  They increased for everyone else, but have fallen at a rate of about 10,000 per month under Obama.  And has been discussed in earlier posts on this blog, this fall in government jobs during Obama’s term (along with cut-backs in government spending more broadly, which is of course related) can fully account for the slow pace of the recovery from the 2008 economic collapse.

Paul Krugman also notes that one could well argue that it may not be fair to count job growth (or fall) in the first year of a presidential term, as the president inherited the economic situation from his predecessor.  It takes some time for new presidential policies to have an impact.  Defenders of Reagan like to point this out.  But as Krugman notes, one should then do the same for the others as well.  The figures for private job growth are then:

Monthly Job Gains from 12 Months In by Presidential Term - Private

Obama now turns out to have presided over the second highest pace of private job growth (after Clinton), and indeed comes out ahead (even if modestly) of the pace during Reagan.  Reagan is lauded as the “job creator” and Obama as the “job destroyer”.  The facts do not support this, at least if one is focused on private sector (rather than public sector) jobs.

In terms of public sector jobs:

Monthly Job Gains from 12 Months In by Presidential Term - Public

What is striking here is how consistent the pace of public sector job growth now is under Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton – two Republicans and two Democrats.  The differences are tiny.  The pace of growth is slower under Bush II, but still substantially positive.  But public sector jobs have fallen sharply under Obama, and only under Obama.

If Obama is a “job destroyer”, it is as a destroyer of public sector jobs.  One would not expect that from a “socialist”.  And private jobs (counting from 12 months after inauguration) have grown faster under this “socialist” than under the hero of the right wing – Ronald Reagan.