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During a speech on the economy in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama touted his record on job creation.
Referring to his Republican critics, Obama said in the July 24, 2013, speech, "They’ll bring up Obamacare -- this is tried and true -- despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as businesses had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare."
We’ll first check whether Obama is correct about job growth, and then take a look at the impact of Obama’s health care law.
The job numbers
Because Obama used the term "recovery," we started by looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics job numbers for the first 49 months after the official end of the past two recessions -- that is, from November 2001 until November 2005, when George W. Bush was president, and from June 2009 until June 2013, during Obama’s tenure.
Under Obama’s recovery, private-sector employment increased by a little under 6.05 million, compared to 3.17 million during the equivalent period during the Bush recovery.
That’s "nearly twice as many jobs," as Obama said. And experts say this is a credible way of measuring the numbers.
But it isn’t the only way.
Instead of starting the clock at the official end of the recovery, one could start it from the low point in private-sector employment. These aren’t the same dates, because a low point private-sector employment isn’t the determining factor for pinpointing the end of a recession.
Using this method makes Obama’s recovery less impressive. During the Bush recovery, private-sector employment continued to tumble all the way to July 2003 -- a year and a half after the recession’s official end. By comparison, during the Obama recovery, private-sector employment began to rise in February 2010, just eight months after the official end of the recession. So the extended slide in private-sector jobs under Bush artificially reduced the number of jobs created during the first part of his recovery.
If you count from the low point in private-sector jobs instead, the Bush recovery produced 6.35 million private-sector jobs in the first 41 months, compared to 7.20 million in the first 41 months of Obama’s recovery.
That’s modestly more private-sector jobs under Obama -- but it’s not "nearly twice as many jobs," as he had said.
There’s also a third way to look at it -- looking at all jobs, not just private-sector jobs. Using this measurement casts an even more unfavorable light on the Obama recovery, since the government sector has been among the hardest-hit of any job category in the current recession.
If you start counting private and government jobs from the low point in employment, the Bush recovery generated slightly more than 7 million total jobs, which actually exceeds the 6.58 million jobs created in the Obama recovery.
Two economists we interviewed -- Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution and Tara Sinclair of George Washington University -- agreed that the alternative measurements are also valid. But by choosing the more favorable of the two statistics, Sinclair said, "I think he's cherry-picking. To in any way claim that this labor market is better than what we had in the mid-2000s just doesn't sound fair to me."
To be fair, Burtless said, Obama did acknowledge elsewhere in his speech that, "I’m here to tell you today that we're not there yet. We all know that. We're not there yet. We've got more work to do."
The role of Obamacare
Obama used the line we’re checking as a way of countering Republican claims that the president’s signature health care law is a job-killer.
The reality is that no one knows yet how much of a job-killer the law is going to be, or if it will be a job-killer at all. Many key provisions of the health care law haven’t kicked in yet. That includes new rules with fines for large businesses that don’t provide their employees with health care. Republicans say the new rules could drive some employers to shed employees or turn them into part-time employees.
Sinclair said it’s possible that some companies may have pre-emptively cut down on employee hours or laid off workers due to the fear of looming Obamacare mandates, or due to certain Obamacare taxes being imposed. However, even if this is happening, it’s impossible to quantify the impact with any specificity. Obamacare’s impact on the currently available job data -- either positive or negative -- is still highly speculative.
Obama said, "Our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as they had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare." Obama’s carefully worded claim uses the most advantageous time frame to measure job growth. Other metrics show that the job recovery he has presided over has been similar to, or even weaker than, the job recovery under Bush. So we rate the claim Half True.
Barack Obama, remarks on the economy at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., July 24, 2013
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)," accessed July 25, 2013
National Bureau of Economic Research, "U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions," accessed July 25, 2013
Email interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, July 25, 2013
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University, July 25, 2013
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