Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment (February 2012 Jobs Data)

Change in Total Private Employment (in thousands), Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Update: Click here for the most recent jobs statistics.

On the first Friday of every month, I update the unemployment numbers so that I can compare the unemployment rate under President George W. Bush with the unemployment rate under President Obama at that time. The genesis of this ritual began when I felt compelled to respond to some left-leaning sites that were comparing Obama’s first two years and four months in office with Bush’s last and worst economic year (the above chart shows the most recent incarnation of this narrative).

In February, the private sector added a robust 233,000 jobs in the twenty-fourth consecutive month of private sector job growth. This development is very positive news. The country also had a net employment gain of 227,000 total jobs (private and public). More importantly, 227,000 exceeds the 125,000 jobs needed each month just to keep pace with the growth of the working-age population, which is also very encouraging news.

More importantly, February 2012 is the second month in which the overall number of jobs lost during the Obama administration is lower than the number lost during the Bush administration. That said, the unemployment rate is still about a percentage point worse today than it was during President Bush’s last full month in office.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained constant 8.3% — the second lowest month of unemployment during the Obama presidency. This number remains 1.0 percentage points worse than President Bush’s last full month in office in December 2008. It also marks 37 consecutive months in which the unemployment rate has been 8% or higher in the 38th month of the Obama presidency.

Unemployment Rate, Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

That said, the unemployment rate only accounts for the percentage of the unemployed who are actively seeking employment. It does not include people who have given up on finding jobs. The month ended with more people employed at the end of February than were employed at the end of January, but the civilian labor force grew faster than the number of new employees entering the work force. Therefore, the main reason unemployment remained constant is that the numerator (the number of employed Americans) increased less than the denominator (the civilian labor force) in the unemployment equation increased.

The civilian labor force ended February at 154.9 million vs. January’s 154.4 million. 142.1 million people had jobs in February, which was an increase of about 428,000 people from January versus about 476,000 people who entered the labor force.

Both the Bush and Obama presidencies have been marked by a steady decline in the labor force participation rate. The labor force participation rate measures the number of people in the labor force as a percentage of the total working-age population. However, the labor force participation rate actually increased by 0.2 percentage points from 63.7% in January to 63.9% in February as more people reenter the labor force as the economy improves.

Labor Force Participation Rate, Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Putting the Numbers into Perspective

The employment statistics during President Bush’s period in office continue to look better than those under President Obama’s to date if one puts more emphasis on the overall unemployment rate. However, President Obama’s employment statistics seem better if one looks at total private sector employment. Over President Bush’s tenure, the private sector lost a net 646,000 jobs, assuming that he gets credit for all jobs lost in January 2009 and none for those lost in January 2001. I changed my methodology in response to a left-leaning blogger‘s fair point “that CES estimates represent information reported by survey respondents for their pay periods that include the 12th of the month.” Hence, any subsequent numbers for jobs created near the end of January would likely appear in the February numbers.

If one attributes the first 19 days of January 2009′s job losses to Bush, and the remaining 11 days of job losses to Obama, the private sector shed 339,000 jobs during the Bush administration (the private sector gained a net 147,000 jobs if one attributes all of January 2009′s job numbers to Obama, and all of January 2001′s numbers to Bush). Surprisingly, this number includes the 3.78 million private sector jobs lost in 2008, and an additional 839,000 in 2009 (514,000 if one attributes the first 19 days of January 2009′s job losses to Bush).

Change in Total Private Employment (in thousands), Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In contrast, under President Obama’s administration, the private sector has still lost a net 274,000 private sector jobs (599,000 if one attributes the remaining 11 days of job losses in January 2009 to Obama, and 1.11 million if one attributes all of January 2009′s losses to him).

Again, the point of this argument is not to assess blame on either administrations’ policy. It simply puts the numbers into perspective.

For each job the private sector cut under George W. Bush, the private sector eliminated ~0.4 jobs under Barack Obama (if one attributes January 2009′s job losses to Obama, the private sector eliminated ~7 jobs for every job it created under Bush). While the private sector job outlook has improved recently, the economy still must create 274,000 private sector jobs to break even.

While the President is almost breakeven on private sector job creation, the unemployment rate continues to remain high. It will likely continue to remain so as more people enter the labor force as the economy improves, even if the private sector continues to add jobs at similar rates. The country still has a long way to go to restoring full employment and the President is running out of time. According to The New York Times, no sitting President since Franklin Roosevelt has won re-election when unemployment was over 7.2% on election day.

And President Obama is no FDR.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
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27 Responses to Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment (February 2012 Jobs Data)

  1. jmasana says:

    The White House can make numbers say anything. It’s all in the formula that is used. Another big joke was the “oil dependence” chart that the White House released last week.

  2. Pingback: Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment (December 2011 Jobs Data) | Reflections of a Rational Republican

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  11. Pingback: Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  12. Pingback: Bush vs. Obama: Total Private Sector Employment | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  13. Scott Erb says:

    Also don’t forget that Bush, like Clinton before him, benefited from pumped up bubble economy. That makes it hard to compare to the Obama post-bubble years. The bubble created short term unsustainable high employment rates. I think the odds are very good that Obama will be re-elected, even Republican insiders are very worried.

    • “Also don’t forget that Bush, like Clinton before him, benefited from pumped up bubble economy.”

      Well, yes and no. Both Bush and Clinton benefit from overleveraged economies, but only Clinton benefited from the Internet bubble.

      “I think the odds are very good that Obama will be re-elected, even Republican insiders are very worried.”

      As always, Scott, it all depends on the economy. If we are still above 8% unemployment, it will be hard for Obama to make a good case for good economic stewardship. Moreover, the Republicans will use an “It’s the economy, stupid” sort of campaign focus.

      • Scott Erb says:

        The internet bubble was not as large as the real estate bubble. The real estate bubble puffed up all parts of the economy and lead numerous normal citizens into unsustainable debt for their homes or home equity loans they assumed they’d pay back easily. The internet bubble was much narrower in scope. I get the sense that the public mood on the economy is changing, and most stats that come out are promising — manufacturing indices across the country, consumer sentiment, etc. If there is an uptick (and of course the government can do a lot to help promote at least a short term uptick) and the Republicans are running on the economy, that might actually damage them. I think what really hurts the Republicans is so far they don’t have the positive, optimistic alternative that Reagan gave in 1980. Even then, Carter could have pulled it out if not for last minute problems (bad news from Iran, a bad debate with Reagan who had a very good debate, bad late economic numbers). If it’s all doom and gloom with warnings of Obama ‘destroying America,’ the GOP could have a horrible year even with only minimally positive economic news.

        Can Romney strike a positive, hopeful, inspirational tone after the mud slinging primaries end? I don’t know. It’s not like 2008 when Obama and Hillary were competing for centrist voters and thus talking in general election mode by February. The GOP field is competing for the more conservative voters and the pivot to the center will be harder for Romney. He can do it, but he has to become a better candidate than he has been so far.

        • I agree that the real estate bubble was certainly more impactful. I also agree that the economy appears to be improving. The key question is whether it will improve enough by election day. 8.3% unemployment is still very high, and is much higher at this point than it was during the Carter administration.

          Of all the GOP candidates still on the field, I think Romney is the only one who can confidently pivot to the center. What’s killing the GOP now is the extended circular firing squad they’ve got going on.

          • Scott Erb says:

            Romney is wounded but not out. Obama benefits from having had the recession start before he came to office. Those hurt most by economic downturns are ones who come in when things are going well and then have things go bad (Carter and Bush). If the economy continues to improve, Romney needs a positive message that doesn’t rely on angst about the economy. He needs to be inspirational — and it is hard to do that in a campaign like the one he’s in. But you’re right, there’s time.

  14. Matt D says:

    we need to pay china about 16 trillion dollars we need everyone to donate because we don’t want to go into china’s hands.

  15. Pingback: Can You Say “Political Expediency?” Sure, I Knew You Could « Oldcontroller's Blog

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