The nagging detail about job growth Trump probably won't like

Trump's boasts notwithstanding, 2019 was the slowest for American job growth since 2011.

The New York Times ran a report this morning on the latest jobs data, and the White House probably appreciated the political framing.

There was never much doubt that President Trump would make boasts about the economy central to his re-election campaign; that is his style, after all. What is becoming more clear is that the data on the economy are giving him something genuinely worth boasting about.

That was especially evident in the first employment numbers of 2020, released Friday morning. It was about as good a jobs report as an incumbent president could hope for nine months before Election Day....

Well, sort of. As we discussed this morning, the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was definitely encouraging, and suggests hiring in 2020 is off to a great start. But the same report included something called "benchmark revisions," which is a month-by-month tally, updating previous job totals -- and those figures weren't quite as encouraging.

For example, the revisions for 2019 showed that the economy generated nearly 2.1 million jobs last year, which is a pretty good number. The trouble, however, is the job totals from last year were down from the year before, and were actually the lowest since 2011.

Or put another way, while Trump spent the year boasting that the U.S. job market was the strongest it's ever been, 2019 saw job growth slow to an eight-year low.

What's more, the best year for jobs during Trump's presidency -- 2.31 million in 2018 -- fails to reach the job growth in any of the three final years of Barack Obama's presidency. It adds a degree of irony to his rhetorical record: Trump ran for president in 2015 and 2016, telling the nation that the economy was horrible and he'd make it vastly better. But annual job growth totals from both 2015 and 2016 were better than any year of the Republican's tenure, at least so far.

Taking this one step further, Trump has now been in office for 36 full months -- February 2017 through January 2020 -- and in that time, the economy has created 6.56 million jobs. In the 36 months preceding Trump's presidency -- February 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 8.08 million jobs.

As regular readers know, some have asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 37 months to the previous 37 months, job totals still slowed from 8.14 million to 6.74 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of the Republican's election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 39 months to the previous 39 months, job totals slowed from 8.68 million to 7.13 million.

Trump continues to tell the world that he's overseeing the strongest domestic job growth in American history, which is plainly false. What's more, the White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

Above you'll find a chart showing annual job totals since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to annual growth under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to annual growth under the Obama administration.

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