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The Recession And The Obama Record On Jobs And Employment or The First Decades Are The Hardest

Lambert pulled out this Bobbleheads parody interview with Vice President Joe Biden:

GREGORY: Joe is this a jobless recovery? …
BIDEN: We were losing millions of jobs when we were sworn in — since then we’ve slowly added hundreds of thousands

This got me to thinking about how much or how little progress has been made since the beginning of the recession in 2007 five years ago. There was Coy's recent contention that Obama job creation efforts are in line with the recoveries from the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions, the two recessions which preceded the 2007 one. So I decided to review the data for employment and jobs at various points over the last 5 years.

Looking first at employment, it hit its high point in November 2007, the month before the official start of the recession, at 146.595 million.

In January 2009 when Obama was inaugurated, it was 142.187 million, representing a loss of 4.408 million since the start of the recession.

Employment hit its low in December 2009 at 137.968 million. This was 8.627 million fewer than the high in November 2007 and 4.219 million fewer than when Obama became President in January 2009.

In April 2012, the number of employed was 141.865 million. This is 4.73 million fewer than the high in November 2007; 322,000 fewer than when Obama was inaugurated in January 2009; but 3.897 million more than the low in December 2009.

The NBER called June 2009 the end of the recession. This was always questionable. Employment is a lagging indicator but employment in June 2009 was 140.003 million. That is the employed still had 2.035 million to decline to get to its low 6 months later in December 2009.

To summarize:


High Point-Low Point: -8.627 million
November 2007-December 2009

High Point-Obama Inauguration: -4.408 million
November 2007-January 2009

Low Point-Present: +3.97 million
January 2009-April 2012

Obama Inauguration-Present: -322,000
January 2009-April 2012

The increase in the employed of 3.897 million in the last 28 months from the low in December 2009 to April 2012 averages 139,000 a month. However during that time the potential labor force as represented by the non-institutional population over 16 increased by 5.86 million. The employment-population is currently at 58.4% and has been that over most of those 28 months. So .584(5.86 million) or 3.422 million is the number of employed needed to account for population growth during this period. Therefore, the net increase in the number of employed over population growth has been only 475,000.

In other words, the Obama Administration has been getting us back to the employment level high of November 2007 at the blisteringly slow speed of 17,000 a month. At that rate, it would take 42 1/4 years to work through the 8.627 million employment deficit created by the recession. Of course, we are already 2 1/3 years into this process so only less than 40 years to go! I can already see the Obama Administration declaring they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I was frankly surprised by just how ridiculously long a timeframe it turned out to be to get back to the square one of pre-recession employment levels. But I checked the numbers a few times, and they are what they are. The truth is that this has been a massive failure on Obama's part. There is just no other way to qualify it than that: massive failure.

So did the jobs numbers tell a different story?

The high point for jobs came in January 2008. In that month, total non-farm jobs stood at 138.023 million.

By Obama's inauguration in January 2009, the number of jobs had fallen 4.462 million to 133.561 million.

And they continued to fall through 130.503 million in June 2009, the official end of the recession, to 129.319 million in December 2009. The high point: January 2008, to low point, December 2009, job loss was 8.704 million. 1.184 million jobs were lost in the 6 months between the official end of the recession and the jobs low point (the classic lagging indicator).

In April 2012, the number of jobs had rebounded to 132.989 million. This was 5.034 million below the January 2008 high point and 3.67 million above the December 2009 low point. It is 572,000 fewer than when Obama was elected.

To summarize:


High Point-Low Point: -8.704 million
January 2008-December 2009

High Point-Obama Inauguration: -4.462 million
January 2008-January 2009

Low Point-Present: +3.670 million
January 2009-April 2012

Obama Inauguration-Present: -572,000
January 2009-April 2012

The Obama Administration presided over an increase of 3.67 million jobs in the 28 months from the low in December 2009 to the present. This averages to 131,000 jobs a month. The bases are not exactly the same but, given that, if we compare this 3.67 million to the 3.422 million employed needed to keep up with population growth in that period, the Obama economy only beat population growth by 248,000. This equates to a stupendously low 8,900/month reduction in the 8.704 million jobs overhang. This would take an unbelievable 81.5 years to work through. Incredibly it is even worse than for the employment data.

This is failure with all the superlatives you can attach to it. It is non-policy as policy. It is an emergency treated as business as usual. It is a callous, calculated writing off of all the jobs and people who lost employment during the recession. Obama is not even trying to get those jobs and people back. And it is more because Obama is equally writing off millions who are no longer counted in the labor force and will, under his leadership, never get the opportunity to land another job.

When I started this review I had no idea that the results would be as bad as they were. I had read that it would take a number of years to get back to pre-recession levels, but I had not personally looked through the data until now. There is a certain wow factor to numbers like 42 and 81 years, but on a human scale, a working life, what they mean is never. Bobblehead David Gregory who in real life is one of the least aware journalists on the planet while mouthing a bit of conventional wisdom accidentally stumbled upon a larger truth. A jobless recovery is an oxymoron, a bit of neoliberal flimflam. From a societal view, jobs are the priority. Anything that is called a recovery without them is meaningless. And that is the truth Bobblehead Gregory stumbled into because that is what we have.

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tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

So numerically, saying this: "We were losing millions of jobs when we were sworn in — since then we’ve slowly added hundreds of thousands."

Is just about like saying this: "We were losing millions of jobs when we were sworn in — since then we’ve slowly added dozens."

It's typical Obama, typical Democratic -- sure it's better than going negative, but it's nowhere near good enough to get us back up to normal.

Submitted by Hugh on

It's a classic dodge. They leave out population growth and then act like what jobs and employment are created are all going to whittling away at those lost in the recession. We see this a lot. They take a big problem and rather than doing anything serious about it they simply define most of it away.

Their people can do the numbers as well as I can. They have a lot more resources so they can do them even better. So it's not like they don't know. They don't want us to know.

As lambert would no doubt point out, having large numbers of permanently un- and disemployed is the goal because it puts downward pressure on wages and is an effective way for the 1% to control the 99%.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

rid of all these people, R & D. We need all current officeholders cleared out. They just don't give a shit about us! My Congressman, Jim Moran is a bad joke walking around in God knows how expensive they are suits. He seems to think that wearing them is a mark of respect.

My two asshole Senators are Jim Webb and Mark Warner. Webb has one or two human impulses every once in awhile, but is an economic ignoramus. Mark Warner is a neoliberal, blue dog, free market fundamentalist, austerity-mongering robot nursing a $300 Million fortune. The Democratic Romney.

VAOTF (Vomiting All Over The Floor)

Thanks, Hugh. Indispensable analysis.

Submitted by lambert on

... but I think it accurately reflects the real claims made by the administration.

That said, thanks for the analysis. I had asked for help interpreting the chart the Obama apologists put out, and the Bobbleheads seemed to encapsulate it well.

Sorry if my sourcing wasn't clear; I thought it was, but maybe it wasn't!

Submitted by Hugh on

LOL. Bobblehead seems like such an apposite adjective when used with either Biden or Gregory. I made a few edits to reflect this. Thanks. Still chuckling over it.