"This year, we're off to our best private-sector jobs growth since 1999."

Barack Obama on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 in a speech in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Mostly True

Barack Obama says this year has been the best start for private-sector job creation since 1999

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at an Amazon.com distribution center in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 30, 2013.

During a July 30, 2013, visit to an Amazon.com facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., President Barack Obama gave another in a series of speeches on the economy.

At one point, Obama said, "This year, we're off to our best private-sector jobs growth since 1999."

We decided to check his math.

We looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for private-sector employment to measure the change between December and the following June of every year since 1999. (June was the most recent month for which data was available when Obama gave his speech.)

Here’s the summary:

Year (endpoint)

Change in private-sector jobs, December-June
































As the chart shows, the total for 2013 is indeed the highest since 1999.

However, we’ll take this opportunity to note a caveat that’s often overlooked in the discussion of employment statistics: The figures released by the BLS actually represent the midpoint in a range.

BLS obtains these numbers through a survey of businesses and government agencies, and as with any survey, there’s a margin of sampling error.

BLS told us that for private-sector employment figures, the standard margin of error for a six-month comparison of this sort is 106,370 jobs on either side. This means, for instance, that if the reported change in jobs is 1,000,000, the actual change is assumed to be somewhere within the range of 893,630 to 1,106,370 jobs.

This point may seem esoteric, but it’s relevant for the comparison Obama’s making because several other years since 1999 have produced job increases very close to the gain of 1,234,000 during the first six months of 2013.

In the three years noted in italics in the chart -- 2012, 2011 and 2005 -- the gain in private-sector jobs fell shy of the 2013 amount by fewer than 106,370. Such cases are analogous to an election poll with a margin of error of 3 percentage points that shows one candidate two points ahead of the other. Such races are deemed too close to call. So too, technically speaking, is the contest for which six-month period created the biggest gain in private-sector jobs -- 2013, 2012, 2011 or 2005.

Of course, three of these four years came on Obama’s watch. One -- 2005 -- came under President George W. Bush.

Our ruling

Obama said, "This year, we're off to our best private-sector jobs growth since 1999." The official statistics show that more jobs were created in the first six months of 2013 than in any equivalent period going back to 1999, but it’s worth noting that three other years came very close to the amount gained in 2013 -- so close that they were within the survey’s margin of error. On balance, we rate the claim Mostly True.