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During the April 3, 2011, edition of ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, columnist George Will said during the show’s roundtable segment that "we lost more jobs in this great recession than the last four recessions combined."
We knew the most recent recession was bad, but we hadn’t realized it was so bad in comparison to other recent recessions. So we decided to check whether Will was right.
We turned to two sources. One is the National Bureau of Economic Research, an independent group of economists that is the de facto arbiter of when recessions begin and end. The other is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that calculates all manner of employment figures.
Below we list the last five recessions as declared by the NBER, along with the difference in U.S. non-farm employment levels between the official start of the recession and the official end:
Jan. 1980 to July 1980: 968,000 jobs lost
July 1981 to Nov. 1982: 2,824,000 jobs lost
July 1990 to March 1991: 1,249,000 jobs lost
March 2001 to Nov. 2001: 1,599,000 jobs lost
Total jobs lost in the four prior recessions: 6,640,000
"Great Recession" -- Dec. 2007 to June 2009: 7,490,000 jobs lost
So the numbers show that Will is right -- about 850,000 more jobs were lost during the great recession than in the previous four recessions combined.
We wondered, though, whether the result would be different if we factored in the size of the labor force, which has grown over the past three decades. It’s impossible to make the same exact comparison Will did -- that is, comparing the sum of the past four recessions with the current one -- because you can’t simply add together percentages drawn from different time periods. But we thought we’d at least see whether the 2007-2009 recession registered more jobs lost on a percentage basis than any of the prior ones.
Here are the numbers for jobs lost as a percentage of the labor force:
Jan. 1980 to July 1980: 1.0 percent
July 1981 to Nov. 1982: 3.1 percent
July 1990 to March 1991: 1.1 percent
March 2001 to Nov. 2001: 1.2 percent
"Great Recession" -- Dec. 2007 to June 2009: Recession decreased jobs by 5.4 percent
So job losses in the "Great Recession" have, on a percentage basis, exceeded those in each of the past four recessions. We rate it True.
George Will, roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, April 3, 2011
National Bureau of Economic Research, "U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions," accessed April 4, 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main search page for Current Employment Statistics, accessed April 4, 2011
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