December’s job totals were clearly a bitter disappointment, but now that we have 12 months of job data, we can ask a different question: how did 2013 shape up?
In all, the U.S. economy added 2.186 million jobs last year, while the private sector created 2.213 million. Looking back over the last couple of decades, that means when it comes to the overall economy, 2013 was the best year for jobs in the United States since 2005 and the second best year since 1999.
That’s right: last year, the economy created more jobs than seven of the eight years Bush/Cheney was in office. This is not to say 2013 was a banner year for jobs; it’s more the result of the job landscape struggling badly during the Bush/Cheney era.
The above chart shows annual totals going back to 1989, which offers a look at four presidential administrations. Red columns show Republican administrations, while blue columns show Democratic administrations.
But just as important, note that every year has two columns: a darker one to show job growth overall, and a lighter one to show job growth in just the private sector. You might notice that before 2009, the overall economy added more jobs than the private-sector alone, but during the Obama era, the opposite is true. Indeed, just in 2013, U.S. businesses added over 2 million jobs, while the public sector lost 27,000 jobs.
This is, of course, a completely insane approach to economic policy. The one area of job policy that elected officials can help control directly is the public sector, but thanks to Republican austerity measures, we’ve allowed the nation to hemorrhage government jobs over the last several years, slowing the recovery and keeping unemployment higher than it needs to be.
If the government invested in the public sector at the same pace Bush/Cheney did, the unemployment rate would be well below 6% right now.
Regardless, when it comes to the overall jobs landscape, 2013 was the best we’ve seen in quite a while. Congressional Republicans predicted at the start of the year that higher income tax rates on the wealthy, which kicked in last January, would discourage job growth, but it appears those predictions were wrong.
Postscript: I should add one important caveat. The annual totals for 2013 are based on preliminary estimates from December, and those totals may yet be revised up. The above chart is based on the most complete data currently available, but it is subject to revision.