At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, House Minority Leader John Boehner was fixated on a specific phrase: “Where are the jobs?” For months, the Ohio Republican would repeat the line, ad nauseum, at press conferences, in interviews, in written statements, and during practically every public appearance.
The point was obvious: As the economy recovered after a brutal recession, it was up to the Democratic White House to get Americans back to work. Jobs and unemployment were the metrics that mattered above all else.
It soon became obvious that Boehner had made a politically unwise choice: After Democrats approved the Recovery Act, job growth in the United States accelerated and the unemployment rate improved. By Obama’s second term, Americans saw some of the strongest job growth of the 21st century — better than the numbers posted during Donald Trump’s term.
“Where are the jobs?” was the wrong question. Obama found it easy to effectively point to reality and say, “Here are the jobs.”
More than a decade later, as another Democratic president responds to another Republican recession, job growth is even more robust. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explained in her latest column that the U.S. job market is the economy’s bright spot — so bright, in fact, “it’s almost blinding.”
U.S. employers added 428,000 jobs on net in April, about the same number added in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Unemployment remained flat at 3.6 percent — close to a half-century low. Perhaps we’ve gotten accustomed to (even spoiled by!) similar headline numbers in recent months. Over the past year, job growth has averaged more than half a million new positions on net each month.
It seems hard to believe, but in the first third of 2022 — January through April — the economy created over 2 million jobs. In 2019 — the last full year before the pandemic — the economy created a nearly identical number of jobs over the course of the entire 12-month calendar year.
As for earlier projections, Rampell’s column added, “[T]oday’s job market recovery is happening much faster than many expected early on in the pandemic or was predicted even as recently as the start of Joe Biden’s presidency.”
It was against this backdrop that House and Senate Republican leaders said ... nothing. The GOP that once demanded to know where the jobs are has apparently decided to pretend not to notice job growth at all.
Circling back to our recent coverage, it seemed at least possible leading Republican officials would argue that Democrats don’t deserve credit for the economic recovery. Or perhaps they’d argue that robust job growth was inevitable after the 2020 recession. Maybe they’d even try to say that Trump was somehow responsible for creating economic conditions he had nothing to do with.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy instead ignored the economic news altogether: No press releases, no tweets, and no public comments. They literally found themselves speechless — just like last month and the month before that.
As regular readers may recall, it was a year ago when we saw the worst month for job growth since Biden’s inauguration: In April 2021, the economy created 269,000 jobs. Under normal circumstances, that would’ve constituted a great total, but with the country still climbing out of its pandemic-driven hole, the April 2021 report was a disappointment.
Republicans wasted no time in pouncing on the data, blaming Democrats for the shortfall. McCarthy released this press statement soon after the data was released:
“Today’s disappointing jobs report confirms once again that President Biden’s tax-and-spend policies are bad for American workers, families, and small businesses.... Experts are calling this jobs report the ‘worst miss in 23 years’, and it was a direct result of President Biden’s counterproductive policies. So President Biden is not fixing a crisis, but creating new ones.”
In the days that followed, the House GOP leader continued to make a direct connection between the White House’s economic agenda and the U.S. job market. A week after April numbers were released, McCarthy again argued, “President Biden and Democrats will make excuses for this abysmal reality, but the truth is their own massive spending agenda created this problem.”
It wasn’t just McCarthy. The Republican National Committee connected Biden’s policies and job growth over and over and over again. McConnell’s Senate website blamed “persistent unemployment” on Democrats.
There was one important problem with this strategy: It was apparently based on the idea that the U.S. job market would continue to fall short for the indefinite future.
It did the opposite: The economy created over 6.7 million jobs in 2021, which was a record high that surpassed the total number of jobs created across each of Trump’s first three years in office combined. All told, we’re now up to over 8.8 million jobs since January 2021 — a total that seemed impossible as last year got underway.
The political problem for Republicans is obvious: If a discouraging monthly jobs report is proof that the Democratic economic agenda is a failure, then several months’ worth of encouraging monthly jobs reports is necessarily evidence that the Democratic economic agenda is a success.
The more GOP leaders say Biden is directly responsible for the nation’s economic conditions, the easier it is for the Democratic White House to take credit when those conditions look great.
It’s okay for Republicans to applaud good news for their own country. When the unemployment rate reached 3.6 percent in the last administration, for example, McCarthy was eager to celebrate. Does he care to explain why he has so little to say now?
Postscript: It’s important to note for context that the Republican National Committee did issue a press statement on Friday morning acknowledging the existence of the latest monthly jobs report. It credited “Republican-led states” for the good employment data.