A reader recently asked us to check out a meme circulating on social media that is critical of President Barack Obama. It reads:
"Obama Fun Fact #301: For every one job created under the Obama administration, 75 people went on food stamps."
Here’s a fun fact: The numbers here are wildly inflated.
A little Googling turned up what appears to be the source of this statistic: A release by the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee headlined, "For Every Person Added to Jobs Rolls Since January 2009, 75 People Added To Food Stamp Rolls." This release was picked up in a Nov. 2, 2012, post by the conservative Weekly Standard.
When the committee released its data, it said the most recent figures were 194,000 jobs created between January 2009 and October 2012 and 14.7 million added to the food stamp rolls between January 2009 and July 2012. That would be roughly a 75-to-1 ratio -- but it’s also a snapshot in time. Since the committee wrote that, employment has increased by 4 million jobs while the number of food stamp recipients has remained about the same, making the comparison grossly out of date.
In fact, late 2012 was pretty much the only point in time during Obama’s tenure where the ratio was that bad. Prior to that, job growth was negative, so the calculation wouldn’t have made any sense. Shortly after, the number of jobs (the denominator) began growing as the number of food stamps (the numerator) stagnated, making the ratio fall consistently over time.
So what is the correct number?
The standard way of counting how many jobs were created during a specific time span is to use seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll survey for total non-farm employment.
The one tricky part is to determine when to start the clock for Obama. We chose three possible points: January 2009, when Obama was sworn in; July 2009, when the recovery from the last recession officially began; and February 2010, the post-recession low point in employment. We compared each of these dates to the most recent month available, April 2014.
Regardless of the time frame, Obama has overseen a net increase in jobs, though the amount of the increase varies. From January 2009-April 2014, the number of jobs increased by 4,276,000. From July 2009-April 2014, the number of jobs increased by 7,635,000. And from February 2010-April 2014, the number of jobs increased by 8,597,000.
Now let’s look at the statistics for food stamps, a program now known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The average monthly number of beneficiaries for fiscal year 2009 -- which was split between the tenure of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama -- was 33,490,000. So far in fiscal year 2014, the average is 46,788,311.
That’s an increase of 13,298,000 people.
Now, looking at as the meme does -- as a ratio -- the number of food stamp beneficiaries was between 1.5 and 3.1 times higher than the number of new jobs. That’s not the type of statistic Obama is apt to broadcast on the hustings, but it’s also far smaller than the 75-to-1 ratio claimed in the Facebook post.
Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist, said she can’t think of any other way to make the calculation that would make the meme’s math work. "I can't see a way that this is anything other than false," she said.
Anyone continuing to circulate this meme is hereby warned that it is no longer accurate.
The meme claims that "for every one job created under the Obama administration, 75 people went on food stamps." The actual ratio is far smaller -- between 1.5-to-1 and 3.1-to-1. That doesn’t put the administration’s economic record in a very flattering light, but the ratio is far lower than the meme suggests. We rate the claim False.