During a Sept. 17, 2011, edition of the MSNBC show Up with Chris Hayes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered a defense of the U.S. economy’s job creation record during President Barack Obama’s tenure.
"When President (George W.) Bush was president for those eight years with those tax policies, we lost jobs," Pelosi said. "In fact, more jobs were created in the second year -- that would be last year -- in the private-sector in the Obama administration than in the eight years of the Bush administration. And they want us to repeat those tax cuts at the high end which, again, did not create jobs, but they did deepen the deficit."
It’s a variation of a talking point we have checked twice in the past year. Before we rule on Pelosi’s current iteration, we’ll review how we rated the previous two instances.
What Pelosi has said previously
The first time came in October 2010, during an interview on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Pelosi said, "More private-sector jobs were created in the first eight months of 2010 than in the eight years of the Bush administration." We found that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 111,634,000 Americans employed in the private-sector at the start of George W. Bush's first term, in January 2001. Eight years later, in January 2009, there were 110,981,000 Americans employed in the private-sector. So the United States lost 653,000 private-sector jobs on Bush's watch.
That made it easy for Pelosi: If the United States had netted even one private-sector job in 2010, she'd be accurate. And the nation actually did quite a bit better than that. Private-sector employment in January 2010 was 106,793,000, a number that grew to 107,570,000 by September 2010. That worked out to 777,000 jobs created. (The numbers here are sightly different from what we reported in our original item, due to after-the-fact numerical revisions by BLS.)
But we noted at the time that Pelosi had cherry-picked the data, choosing a time frame favorable to Obama. If she'd instead chosen to start from the beginning of Obama's term -- rather than half way through his first two years -- she would have been stuck with a net loss of 3.4 million private-sector jobs, not the increase of 777,000 she came up with for the first eight months of 2010. Pelosi essentially started counting from the low point for jobs and only counted the upward part of the trendline.
Meanwhile, the start and end points she used for Bush give the former president no such break. The jobs picture under Bush looked like an arc, heading generally upward through mid 2007 before heading downward again. If she had used only the upward portion of the arc, as she did for Obama, it would have showed a gain of roughly 4 million private-sector jobs.
On balance, we gave Pelosi’s October 2010 statement a rating of Half True -- right on the numbers, but misleading due to cherry-picking.
Pelosi’s second offering, in May 2011, earned a lower rating, since she misstated a portion of the talking point.
During a May 16, 2011, interview with Bloomberg television, Pelosi said, "In the first year of the Obama administration, more jobs were created in the private-sector than in the eight years of the Bush administration, with all of the tax cuts that President Bush had." This time, she pointed to the first year of the Obama Administration -- January 2009 through January 2010 -- when the economy shed almost 4.2 million private-sector jobs.
So while job growth under Bush was anemic by historical standards, it was still better than the 4.2 million jobs lost under Obama. That means Pelosi was wrong, and we rated the claim False.
Pelosi’s new statement
Pelosi’s statement from last weekend continues the cherry-picking approach: She cited numbers only for jobs created in 2010.
Using the period January 2010 to December 2010, the number of private-sector jobs increased by more than 1.2 million. If Pelosi had used more current numbers, she actually would have had a stronger case: From January 2010 to August 2011, the increase in jobs was almost twice as big -- nearly 2.4 million.
Even the smaller of these two numbers beats Bush’s eight-year jobs increase -- but she continues to conveniently ignore the first year of the Obama administration. If you take the entirety of Obama’s term -- January 2009 to August 2011 -- the nation has lost 1.8 million jobs, which is still worse than what happened under Bush.
Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi, argues that it’s proper to keep the first year of Obama’s tenure out of the equation.
"Republicans may wish to wipe the slate clean and forget about the financial crisis that nearly destroyed our economy and the recession that began under President Bush," said Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi. "The figures are correct and clearly demonstrate that private-sector jobs are being created, but not fast enough – we have much more to do, and we urge Republicans to join us to pass President Obama’s American Jobs Act."
We understand the impulse to make such adjustments, but in Pelosi’s formulation, this principle is applied unequally. If the first year of the Bush administration, which also included a recession, were excluded from her calculation-- this would have magically erased a loss of 2.4 million jobs under Bush. The next seven years of the Bush presidency would have shown a gain of nearly 1.8 million jobs, rather than a loss of 653,000 for the full eight-year period.
Interestingly, if Pelosi had started the count for each president at the beginning of the second year of their presidencies, it would not only have been more defensible methodologically, but it would have also backed up Pelosi's argument better. Leaving out the first year for each president, private-sector job growth under Obama would have been 2.4 million, compared to 1.8 million under Bush.
However, in none of the three statements by Pelosi that we've fact-checked did Pelosi use that method.
Pelosi compared a select time frame in the Obama administration against the entire length of the Bush administration -- a methodology that treats the two presidents unequally. The irony is that if she had used better methodology, she would have had a sounder argument that more private-sector jobs were created under Obama than under the Bush administration. For her general point, we give Pelosi some credit. For her methodological sins -- repeated at least three times -- we give her thumbs down. On balance, we rate her statement Half True.