Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment (December 2011 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 December, the private sector added a robust 212,000 jobs in the twenty-second consecutive month of private sector job growth. This development is very positive news. The country also had a net employment gain of 200,000 total jobs (private and public). More importantly, 200,000 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.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined from 8.7% to 8.5% — the third lowest month of unemployment during the Obama presidency. This number remains 1.2 percentage points worse than President Bush’s last full month in office in December 2008. It also marks 35 consecutive months in which the unemployment rate has been 8% or higher in the 36th 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 December than were employed at the end of November, and the civilian labor force had fewer people leaving it than there were new employees entering the work force. Therefore, the main reason unemployment declined is that the numerator (the number of employed Americans) increased faster than the denominator (the civilian labor force) in the unemployment equation declined.

The civilian labor force ended December at 153.9 million vs. November’s 153.9 million. 140.7 million people had jobs in December, which was an increase of about 176,000 people from November versus about 50,000 people who left 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. The labor force participation rate remained at 64.0% in December from the previous month.

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. Over President Bush’s tenure, the private sector lost a net 653,000 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 346,000 jobs during the Bush administration (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 841,000 in 2009 (515,000 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 1.05 million private sector jobs (1.38 million if one attributes the remaining 11 days of job losses in January 2009 to Obama, and 1.89 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 ~2 jobs under Barack Obama (if one attributes January 2009’s job losses to Obama, the private sector eliminated ~13 jobs for every job it created under Bush). While the private sector job outlook has improved recently, the economy still must create 1.05 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.

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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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28 Responses to Bush vs. Obama: Unemployment (December 2011 Jobs Data)

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

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  10. Scott Erb says:

    As usual my main critique is even associating these numbers with the particular Presidents. We’re looking at a major recession that bottomed out in early 2009 and is slowly recovering. However, I’d not make anything at all of that 7.2% figure. First, Ronald Reagan won re-election with unemployment at 7.2%. It was a landslide victory, I’m sure he would have still won if it was 7.6% or perhaps higher. As long as the economy seems to be improving it will be good for Obama, whether unemployment is 7.2% or 8.0%. Second, look at who hasn’t been re-elected: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. That’s a pretty small sample.

    Ford had a rate of 7.8% when he ran, but still it was an extremely tight contest. Beyond that the economy was not seen as really doing well, Ford had never actually been elected, and he was criticized for pardoning Richard Nixon. The GOP was at a low ebb – this was a post-Watergate defeat more than due to the unemployment rate — and Ford almost pulled it off. (I was 16 and drove people to the polls for the Ford campaign that year). For Carter unemployment had gone up from 5.6% in May 1979 to about 7.5% around election time and during the campaign. Carter’s problem was not the rate, but the fact it had risen so much in the year before his re-election, and the country was experiencing a recession. George H.W. Bush had a rate of 7.4% in 1992, but again it was the direction — the recession was ending but jobs recover last, and President Bush was seen as ineffective on the economy.

    In other words, that 7.2% number is all but meaningless on its own. If you look at the cases what really matters is the perception of the economy. Both the Carter and Ford cases have other factors — Carter was tight in the polls in 1980 before a final debate and bad news from Iran where Americans were being held hostage. The foreign policy problems and oil crisis hit Carter hard. There’s also the factor of the opposition — Carter, Reagan and Clinton all captured a spirit of hope at a time the country was in the dooldrums. Although Carter is thought about in terms of “malaise” now, in 1976 he was inspiring. The GOP so far has not embraced an optimistic vision or a strong alternative. Therefore it seems to me that if job growth continues and the public perception of the economy continues to improve, President Obama will be pretty easily re-elected. If job growth stalls again and economic pessimism returns, we’ll have President Romney.

    • “As usual my main critique is even associating these numbers with the particular Presidents. We’re looking at a major recession that bottomed out in early 2009 and is slowly recovering. However, I’d not make anything at all of that 7.2% figure. First, Ronald Reagan won re-election with unemployment at 7.2%.”

      Fair enough. That said, no won since FDR has won reelection with an unemployment rate >7.2%.

      “Therefore it seems to me that if job growth continues and the public perception of the economy continues to improve, President Obama will be pretty easily re-elected. If job growth stalls again and economic pessimism returns, we’ll have President Romney.”

      I personally think Obama’s bogey is 7.8% unemployment. If it is below that rate by election time, he has a shot. If not, Republicans will lambast him for having a higher unemployment rate than when he started. My sense is that the jobs numbers in December were likely influenced by seasonal factors like holiday sales, etc. I think next month will be tepid at best. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but since the pink slips started flying again at my firm, I doubt it.

      • Guy Noir says:

        All this emphasis upon U4 stats is absurd, particularly when massive amounts of people are struggling to find work, or sort out their lives so there is at least HOPE of someday having work. The participation rate is far more descriptive when mass unemployment is being measured (I take it as axiomatic that mass unemployment will generate huge amounts who simply give up looking for work). The fact that analysts and talking heads refuse to switch stats when the situation warrants is of no consequence. Also, since U4 seems to obscure the macro-economic problems much better than the participation rate does, obviously we will see traditional media try to support continued usage of the U4 figure. They are aware that people are abandoning any hope of ever getting a job, and are filling the roles of welfare and SNAP and S8 housing, at an ASTONISHING rate. And, the students who had an 80 percent job attainment only a few years ago now get jobs at only 50 percent rates. This should FEEL like a big beast SLIDING DOWN a precarious slope.

  11. I should like to see the data extended backward as far as it us progressing forward, as you have done previously. As Mr. Erb points out, presidential action or inaction is only one marginal element in the progress of the economy.
    I believe that Mr. Obama has a very good chance of re-election along with Republicans winning the Senate and House. I see the underlying issue as whether or not the electorate is willing to reduce the government gravy train and how fast. I guess that the electorate’s answers are “OK as long as it’s not my gravy” and “go slowly”.
    I think we will elect Mr Obama to keep the train going and Republicans to put on the brakes

  12. John Fenton says:

    I have looked briefly at your charts and analysis and I think you are deliberately omitting the obvious. When Obama was sworn in, the economy and loss of jobs was in free fall. This continued for a few more months and then slowed and has reversed itself. No way to tell but I wonder how bad things would be if Obama had lost the election and McCain continued the same failed course. Maybe you think that things would be better but I don’t see it.

    • I do think things would have been better because I don’t think McCain would have needlessly wasted political capital on Obamacare, and instead would have passed more pro growth legislation in addition to the stimulus.

      • Tassia Reoutt says:

        but with out obamacare there would be a ton of people with out health care? what is so wrong with giving health care to individuals incapable of paying for it themselves due to injury or because they are fighting off a deadly disease.

        • “but with out obamacare there would be a ton of people with out health care?”

          No one has ever turned sick people away (even if they couldn’t pay). It was like this before Obamacare.

          “what is so wrong with giving health care to individuals incapable of paying for it themselves due to injury or because they are fighting off a deadly disease.”

          Healthcare is not a fundamental right, and someone has to pay for it.

          • Guy Noir says:

            Right and MOST of the features of the Affordable Care Act have yet to be implemented:

            http://www.healthcare.gov/law/timeline/

            This thing shows that several significant things have kicked in, but frankly it still looks to me like massive amounts of this thing have yet to take effect or are only just beginning and have only generated very tentative actuarially useful data. What’s MORE important is that consumers have yet to begin to LEAN upon the various features. Once they do begin to do that, and ONLY then, will full pricing begin to happen.

  13. “That exact pitch helped Reagan win his 1984 reelection bid when he destroyed Walter Mondale —Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C. — despite an unemployment rate of 7.4% on election day. One year earlier, unemployment stood at 8.8%, higher than it is today, but it then steadily ticked down over the following months.”

    Read more: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-12-07/politics/30485008_1_unemployment-rate-obama-election-day#ixzz1jGtD5Zjs

    • It’s possible. Obama still needs to chip away at another 130 basis points of unemployment before he get back to the “electable” 7.2%.

      • Yes it is possible considering Reagan took it from 8.8% down to 7.4% in one year.

        • The problem is that the economy was a lot better during Reagan’s period (whether or not he had anything to do with it is another debate). A number of firms ranging from financial institutions to agricultural companies to drug companies have already started announcing layoffs, S&P just downgraded 9 Eurozone countries’ debt ratings, and 4 out of 5 countries on the UN Security Council are choosing leaders this year. All-in-all, President Obama faces severe headwinds in getting unemployment below 8% this year, many of which are well beyond his control.

          I am not a fan of Mr. Obama’s, but I sincerely hope he can turn things around for the sake of our country.

        • Shannon says:

          Well, having a father who was out of work for two years during Reagan’s economy, I am no fan of Mr. Reagans.

          I will say that I am impressed that you stated that Obama succeeds. Most of the other conservative blogs I’ve posted to would be willing to let the country burn if it meant getting rid of Obama. Sadly, that seems to include Congress. I may have to reevaluate my approach.

          That being said, you may want to check out what unemployment’s done lately. If it continues dropping at this rate, it could very well drop below 7.4% by November. Economists generally agree that sharp increases in unemployment are followed by sharp decreases.

          Obama also has one other advantage – the quality of his opponents. Even Republicans don’t like Romney much, and none of the other GOP contenders have a chance in hell of beating Obama.

        • “If it continues dropping at this rate, it could very well drop below 7.4% by November.”

          Last month unemployment decreased by 0.2 percentage points. If one assumes that the decrease proceeds at that pace, unemployment would reach 6.3% by election day.

          Heck, if Obama pulls that one off, I will vote for him.

          The problem is that much of December’s strength was based on seasonal factors associated with temporary employment during the Christmas season (in my opinion). Add to that factor the recent stream of negative employment and economic news, and I fear we will end 2012 in the high 7 percents or low eight percents for unemployment. S&P’s downgrade of 9 Eurozone countries’ sovereign debt, as well as numerous recent company layoff announcements (Novartis -1,960, City of Oakland – 1,500, MetLife – 4,300, Friendly’s Ice Cream Corp. – ~740) don’t bode well. And that was just last week. Add elevated oil prices due to a potential conflict between the United States and Iran, and things do not bode well for 2012. The President will have his work cut out for him.

          “Economists generally agree that sharp increases in unemployment are followed by sharp decreases.”

          I never heard this before. I don’t agree or disagree with it. It is simply the first time I’ve heard of this theory. For our country’s sake, I hope you’re right.

  14. Marcello Jun says:

    Indeed, Obama is no FDR. But to be fair, Obama doesn’t have WWII to help him boost the economy and the industrial sector!

    One other thing, it is entirely unreasonable to compare overall job creations between Bush 43 and Obama when you don’t correct for the fact that W’s first 6 years in office were under intense global economic expansion and he inherited a tight economy with budgetary surplus, whereas we only have data for the first 2.5 years of Obama under the second worst global economic contraction, a domestic economy in tatters, and he inherited enormous budgetary deficits, 2 complex wars, and an irrationally hostile opposition.

    • “One other thing, it is entirely unreasonable to compare overall job creations between Bush 43 and Obama when you don’t correct for the fact that W’s first 6 years in office were under intense global economic expansion and he inherited a tight economy with budgetary surplus, whereas we only have data for the first 2.5 years of Obama under the second worst global economic contraction, a domestic economy in tatters, and he inherited enormous budgetary deficits, 2 complex wars, and an irrationally hostile opposition.”

      Remember, Marcello, that the economy headed into recession as soon as Bush took over after the dot com bubble crashed. Eight months are he took office, the twin towers fell. The Bush administration had to operate in crisis mode from the very beginning, much as the Obama administration has had to today. Though I do think it is fair to state that President Obama certainly inherited a much more challenging economic situation.

      I agree with you that it is unfair to compare eight years with 2.5 years. However, the genesis of this article was in response to some folks on the left who were distorting the record by comparing only George Bush’s worst year, with Obama’s first year. Not exactly a fair comparison.

      • Joe Williams says:

        I’m no Dem or GOP lover but go ahead and give us a lesson on these patterns:

        FDR said, “Never again will we allow the Republicans to manipulate and dismantle the economy…” for their profits…
        1929 Crash Under Hoover
        Nixon crash and blames carter
        Reagan crash
        Bush Crash
        ———————
        AND ON OBAMA
        WHAT DOES THIS WORD MEAN?

        Here is some food for thought.

        Check Snopes and Google, but don’t stop there, take the time to visit your Library.

        Dhimmitude — What does it mean?

        Obama used it in the health care bill.

        Now isn’t this interesting? It is used in the health care law.
        Dhimmitude — I had never heard the word until now. Type it into Google and start reading. Pretty interesting. It’s on page 107 of the healthcare bill. I looked this up on Google and yep, it exists.. It is a REAL word.

        Word of the Day: Dhimmitude

        Dhimmitude is the Muslim system of controlling non-Muslim populations conquered through jihad. Specifically, it is the TAXING of non-Muslims in exchange for tolerating their presence AND as a coercive means of converting conquered remnants to Islam.

        ObamaCare allows the establishment of Dhimmitude and Sharia Muslim diktat in the United States . Muslims are specifically exempted from the government mandate to purchase insurance, and also from the penalty tax for being uninsured. Islam considers insurance to be “gambling”, “risk-taking”, and “usury” and is thus banned. Muslims are specifically granted exemption based on this.

        How convenient. So I, as a Christian, will have crippling IRS liens placed against all of my assets, including real estate, cattle, and even accounts receivables, and will face hard prison time because I refuse to buy insurance or pay the penalty tax. Meanwhile, Louis Farrakhan will have no such penalty and will have 100% of his health needs paid for by the de facto government insurance. Non-Muslims will be paying a tax to subsidize Muslims. This is Dhimmitude.

        I recommend sending this onto your contacts. American citizens need to know about it —

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