As Donald Trump's first year in office wrapped up, the Republican president bragged about the nation's job totals as if they represented an extraordinary accomplishment. They didn't: job growth in 2017 was actually the worst in seven years.
"In many ways this is the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America and the best time EVER to look for a job! ... Best Economy & Jobs EVER"
Over the first 16 months of Trump's presidency, the economy has created 2.97 million jobs. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. It's a perfectly good number, reflecting a healthy job market. But what he may not know is that in the preceding 16 months -- in other words, Barack Obama's final 16 months in office -- the economy created 3.45 million jobs.
Let's take this a step further. So far in 2018, the economy has added 1.047 million jobs, which again, is an encouraging figure. But to put this in context, consider the January-to-May job totals from the last several years:
2012: 1,034,0002013: 1,047,0002014: 1,180,0002015: 1,144,0002016: 803,0002017: 862,0002018: 1,047,000
What Donald Trump, eager to repeat self-aggrandizing boasts, seems to miss is a simple truth: there's a difference between seeing the strongest job growth in the history of the United States and seeing the strongest job growth since 2015.
What's more, the president also continues to make the mistake of being born on third base and thinking he hit a triple. Americans have reason to be pleased with the health of the job market and the low unemployment rate, but these are trends that began long before Trump took office. Managing not to screw things up isn't the same thing as accomplishing something historic.
Maybe, Trump fans will argue, job growth is nice, but what really matters is the strength of the overall economy. It's why the president said yesterday that this is "the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America."
Except it's not. GDP growth, for example, looked good in the president's first year, but it fell short, not only of Trump's campaign promises, but also of GDP growth across much of Barack Obama's presidency.
As we discussed in April, in American history, we’ve experienced several enormous economic booms. The status quo is good, but it’s not that good.
Just so there’s no ambiguity here, it's important to emphasize that I'm not criticizing the health of the economy. The recent data looks quite good, and that’s heartening news, regardless of any political considerations. If the president tried to claim credit for not making things worse, it’d make sense.
But the economy is healthy enough that Trump shouldn’t feel the need to lie about it. The idea that there’s “never been an economy like this” -- a claim he peddled at a recent rally -- is absurd. On many occasions, and by every relevant metric, we’ve seen vastly stronger economies throughout American history.
When the economy is in good shape, there’s no reason for Trump or anyone else to spin it, massage it, or repackage it in misleading ways. Telling the truth works fine. Maybe the White House should try it.