The terrific June jobs report may be the signal we’ve been waiting for that we’re finally turning the psychic corner. The overall jobs number was great at 288,000, and the unemployment rate was down to 6.1 percent. But the most important number was that the employment-to-population ratio, which many economists think of as the truest measure of the jobs market, was up a bit to 59 percent, a high for the recovery, indicating that maybe more people are finally out looking for work than staying home.
A lot of liberals puzzle over why the Obama administration isn’t getting more credit, or doesn’t do a better job of making sure it gets credit, for such good economic news. There are a lot of theories, and most of them hold varying amounts of water. But the main reason to me is fairly obvious: Liberals don’t speak as one big fat propagandistic voice on this subject in remotely the same way conservatives do when a Republican president is in power.
Before I get into all that, I want to review some numbers with you, because unless you’re a hyper-informed political junkie, I doubt you know them. How many net jobs has the economy created during Barack Obama’s presidency, and how many did it create during George W. Bush’s tenure? Notice first that I wrote “has the economy created” rather than “did Obama create/did Bush create.” I think it’s a better description of reality.
I also should note that I just measured the numbers under each president—I gave Bush the numbers from January 2001 to December 2008, and Obama the numbers from January 2009 to the present, with the following asterisk. January 2009 was when Obama became president, but he didn’t start until the 20th, of course. That was a particularly awful month, with 798,000 jobs lost. So I think it’s reasonable to give Bush, whose policies helped cause the meltdown anyway, two-thirds of that 798,000. (January 2001, by the way, was a tiny number, 30,000 jobs lost, but just to be consistent, I assigned only 10,000 of those to Bush.)
Here are Bush’s numbers: It’s 8.657 million jobs gained, and 7.121 million jobs lost, for a net job-creation number of 1.536 million. Pathetic. It’s interesting to look back over the numbers from 2001. The economy stank. The month of 9/11, we lost 242,000 jobs. Want to ascribe that just to the attacks? In August, we’d lost 158,000. The decent Bush years were 2004, 2005, 2006, and part of 2007, but even then the numbers were hoppy and inconsistent: 307,000 jobs added in May 2004 and just 74,000 in June, for instance.
And what about Obama’s numbers? I’d betting that even if you’re an Obama partisan, you think they’re not all that different from Bush’s. After all, 2009 was miserable: minus 798,000, minus 701,000, minus 826,000, and so on. The numbers went into the black in early 2010, but dipped back into the red in the summer. But remember, since October 2010, every report has been positive—the now 45 straight months of job growth that the president and his team, to little avail, crow about.
But they’ve added up, because under Obama, the economy has added 9.425 million jobs and lost 4.887, for a net gain of 4.538 million jobs. That’s a 3 million advantage over Bush. Now, 6.5 million jobs doesn’t put Obama up there in Clinton (22 million) and Reagan (around 16 million) territory. But remember—he has 30 months to go yet. Let’s say we average a gain of 250,000 a month the rest of the way. That’s another 7.5 million. And that would edge him up toward Reagan territory. And that seems conservative, if anything. If the recovery gets genuinely humming, we could start seeing months between 300,000 and 400,000 next year. It seems unlikely to happen, but God would it be hilarious if Obama, with everything the Republicans in Congress have done to keep the economy in a state of contraction, ended up surpassing Reagan.
[UPDATE: I rechecked my math this morning, and it's a good thing I did. I had originally given Obama nearly 2 million more jobs created than the actual numbers reflect. Obviously, I want to be accurate here. I added and re-added these three times.]
But all that’s speculative. After all, there could be a recession coming, too, though most experts don’t seem to fear that much. So let’s just talk about the up to now, the 6.5 million net jobs. As I said before, I bet you didn’t know that. Why?
Two main reasons. One, the administration doesn’t go a great job of trumpeting it, and I think for good reason. Officials may feel constrained from doing too much boasting because a lot of people’s perception and experience is still worse than that. A lot of these aren’t great jobs, and the economy is still only doing real well for the top 5 or 10 percent.
The second reason is that figures on the broad left simply aren’t superficial cheerleaders. The two men who are probably the most influential economic voices on the left, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, have both been pretty harsh critics of the administration’s economic policies, as have other liberal economists. They, and less well-known but still prominent people such as Dean Baker, look at the numbers and report the truth as they see it. Democratic politicians are cheerleaders in varying degree—there’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the rah-rah end, but most Democrats don’t brag too much for the same reason the White House doesn’t.
And the media voices on the left—the folks on MSNBC, say—try to accentuate the positive in political terms, but they don’t ignore the bad news by any stretch of the imagination. MSNBC talks a lot about obstreperous Republicans, a theme to which I certainly contribute on air, but the network also offers a consistent diet of news features on and interviews with people stuck in the dead-end economy and having a hard time of it, segments that usually demand the government do more.
Now, imagine that a Republican president produced 45 straight months of job growth coming off the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Lord, we’d never hear the end of it from Fox and Limbaugh and even from CNBC. They wouldn’t care about the reality that a lot of the jobs are low wage. They’d just trumpet the bottom-line numbers as evidence of their president’s Churchillian greatness.
That’s how they are, and nothing’s going to change them. The important question now, as I said up top, is whether we’re really turning the psychic corner. Corporations have been hoarding record profits, banks still aren’t lending they way they should be, businesses have been skittish about large-scale hiring. It’s a big game of economic chicken, and it certainly has a political element. Most of these corporate titans and bankers and business leaders are Republicans. I don’t think most of them would intentionally hold the economy back because they don’t like the president, but I do think they take their cues from elected Republicans more than from Obama. When the Republicans stand up and say repeatedly that the president’s policies are failing, failing, failing, these private-sector titans hear them, and it influences what they do.
It may be that we’re finally working our way through all that. Happy days aren’t yet here again, but, once again, Democrats, the alleged socialists, are saving capitalism from the supposed lovers of capitalism who almost destroyed it.