In light of the various charts MaddowBlog has published in recent months, I’ve received a few requests, mainly from folks looking to see how President Obama’s record on job creation stacks up against other modern presidents. Sure, he’s already easily surpassed Bush/Quayle and Bush/Cheney, but that wasn’t too tough. What about others?
The problem is coming up with a fair basis for comparison. When Obama took office, for example, the economy faced catastrophic, free-fall conditions. In 2009, due entirely to conditions he inherited, the U.S. lost over 5 million jobs. No president since FDR faced an economic environment like that.
Even Obama’s harshest critics couldn’t honestly blame him for those job losses, but if we’re tallying up jobs per administration, the brutal year skews the results.
What I set out to do was create an apples-to-apples comparison, and here’s what I came up with: what if we looked only at a president’s fifth and sixth years in office?
This obviously excludes one-termers like Carter and H.W. Bush, but it also removes from the equation the economic conditions various presidents inherited from their predecessors.
With this in mind, the above chart shows exactly that: job creation for all two-term, post-WWII presidents, isolating their fifth and sixth years in office.
Clinton clearly leads the pack – the economic boom in 1997 and 1998 really was remarkable – but Obama is second. In an unexpected twist, W. Bush actually tops Reagan by this metric – on the economy, W. Bush’s overall record was arguably the worst since Hoover, but 2005 and 2006 just happened to be his two best years for job creation (those gains were wiped out by the Great Recession, which began in 2007).
You’ll hear a lot of talk today about 2014 being the best year for jobs since 1999, which is absolutely correct. Indeed, the year ended up topping 3 million jobs created, which I hardly thought possible. Last year, job creation under Obama was better than four of Clinton’s eight years, and four of Reagan’s eight years.
But my goal here is to add even more context, combining 2013 and 2014, and comparing them against Obama’s modern predecessors. And on that front, this president is looking pretty darn good.
Update: A few readers have noted that population changes over time affect the results, and the point is well taken. In fact, the point is especially relevant given Eisenhower’s poor showing. (A rather unpleasant recession in 1958 didn’t help.)
But if this factor alone dictated the results, George W. Bush’s totals would top Bill Clinton’s, since the population was larger in the 2000s than the 1990s. Except, that’s obviously not what the results show.