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 September, the private sector added a robust 137,000 jobs in the nineteenth consecutive month of private sector job growth. This development is very positive news. The country also had a net employment gain of 103,000 total jobs (private and public). That said, 103,000 still falls short of the 125,000 jobs needed each month just to keep pace with the growth of the working-age population.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate again remained unchanged at 9.1%. This number remains 1.8 percentage points worse than President Bush’s last full month in office in December 2008. It also marks 32 consecutive months in which the unemployment rate has been 8% or higher in the 33rd month of the Obama Presidency.
Furthermore, 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 employment. The good news is that the month ended with more people employed at the end of September than were employed at the end of August. The bad news is that the civilian labor force increased faster than the number of new net employees.
The civilian labor force ended August at 153.6 million vs. September’s 154.0 million. In contrast, 139.6 million people had jobs in August. The number of people with jobs increased by about 398,000 people from August to September, whereas about 423,000 people 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. That said, the labor force participation rate increased 0.2% in September from 64.0% in the previous month, and it is the second consecutive month that it increased.
Therefore, it is a positive sign that more people are beginning to return to the labor market. That said, since the civilian labor force is the denominator in the unemployment rate, its increase is an important reason why the unemployment rate remains stubbornly at 9.1%.
Putting the Numbers into Perspective
President Bush’s overall record continues to look far better than President Obama’s to date. Over President Bush’s tenure, the private sector lost a net 346,000 jobs, 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 gained a net 141,000 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 515,000 in 2009 if one attributes the first 19 days of January 2009’s job losses to Bush.
In contrast, under President Obama’s administration, the private sector has still lost a net 1.96 million private sector jobs (2.47 million if one attributes all of January 2009’s losses to Obama). If Bush and Clinton get credit for the January 2009 and January 2001 numbers, respectively, the private sector would still have lost 1.63 million private sector jobs under the Obama administration.
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 ~6 jobs under Barack Obama (if one attributes January 2009’s job losses to Obama, the private sector eliminated ~18 jobs for every job it created under Bush). While the private sector job outlook has improved recently, the economy still must create 1.96 million private sector jobs to break even.
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.