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Obama targets an overlooked Trump vulnerability: his jobs record

The one thing propping up Trump's political support this election season is a pillar with a lot of cracks.
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a Biden-Harris drive-in rally in Miami on Oct. 24, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

At a campaign event in Miami over the weekend, former President Barack Obama took aim at a subject Democrats probably don't talk about nearly enough: Donald Trump's jobs record.

"Unemployment was steadily going down during the Obama-Biden presidency, and then he gets elected, and it keeps on going down, and suddenly he says, 'Look what I did,'" the former president said. "Their first three years fell short of our last three, and that was before he could blame the pandemic."

Yesterday in Orlando, Obama drove the point home again.

"Donald Trump likes to claim he built this economy but I just want to remind you that America created 1.5 million more jobs in the last 3 years of the Obama-Biden administration than in the first 3 years of the Trump-Pence administration. That's a fact. Look it up. And that was before Trump could blame the pandemic."

The former president said we could "look it up," and that's a good idea. Let's do exactly that.

According to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy created 3 million jobs in 2014, 2.72 million jobs in 2015, and 2.34 million jobs in 2016. The combined total for the final three years of the Obama/Biden era: a little over 8.06 million jobs.

Meanwhile, according to the same data, the U.S. economy created 2.11 million jobs in 2017*, 2.31 million jobs in 2018, and 2.13 million jobs in 2019. The combined total for the first three years of the Trump/Pence era: a little over 6.55 million jobs.

That's a difference of 1.51 million jobs. The incumbent president has never explained why job growth slowed after he took office -- even before the coronavirus pandemic. On the contrary, Trump continues to insist, on a nearly basis, that before the COVID-19 crisis, that he's personally responsible for having created the single greatest economy in the history of the United States.

And as we saw on "60 Minutes," the incumbent Republican doesn't seem to like it when someone reminds him this plainly isn't true.

The point, of course, isn't simply to note that Obama was right and Trump was wrong. What matters is the degree to which the current president is relying on his jobs record as a political life-preserver, even as Trump hopes that no one notices that his record isn't nearly as impressive as he likes to claim.

But the facts on this are stubborn. In fact, not only did American job growth slow down after Trump took office, there are industry-specific failures worth remembering. The incumbent president also vowed to dramatically revitalize the manufacturing jobs sector, but that hasn't happened. He also said his tariffs and trade policies would boost jobs in the steel industry, but that hasn't happened, either.

Reuters took a closer look yesterday at the Republican's plan for a "Rust Belt boom" that never materialized: "Heartland job growth lagged under Trump."

The one thing propping up the president's support this election season is a pillar with a lot of cracks.

* I realize this is probably a little too generous to Trump, since it credits him for jobs created in January 2017 -- the month of his inauguration -- but I'm trying to simplify matters a bit.