As President Donald Trump takes the stage at his reelection rally here Monday and boasts of his economic record, there is one statistic he is likely to omit: He created 1.5 million fewer jobs in his first three years in office than predecessor Barack Obama did in his final three.
Newly revised figures from Trump’s own Department of Labor show that 6.6 million new jobs were created in the first 36 months of Trump’s tenure, compared with 8.1 million in the final 36 months of Obama’s ― a decline of 19% under Trump, according to a HuffPost analysis.
Economists say that the slowing of job creation is not surprising. There are fewer empty jobs and fewer unemployed people available to fill them as the economy gets closer to full employment.
“I’m not a big fan of jobs numbers as a metric of success,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, once the top economic adviser to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He added, though, that Trump’s “hyperbole” notwithstanding, “the performance of the labor market has been nothing short of stunning.”
David Rothschild, an economist with Microsoft Research, said Trump is presiding over a decent job market ― the same as his Democratic predecessor did. “The economy is basically humming along for the last three years, just as it was for the last year several years of the Obama administration,” Rothschild said.
Nevertheless, the statistics belie Trump’s frequent claims that he turned around Obama’s poor management of the economy.
The White House would not respond to the new statistics, but spokesman Judd Deere told HuffPost: “President Obama presided over one of the slowest recoveries in history while President Trump has smashed expectations with 5 million more jobs grown than forecasted by the (Congressional Budget Office), a record setting stock market, strong wage growth for blue collar workers, and historically low unemployment rates. Because of the strength of the Trump economy more and more Americans are coming off the sidelines to find work many of whom were left out of the so-called Obama recovery.”
During his State of the Union speech last week to Congress, Trump said: “If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success.”
The economy is just one of several areas where Trump repeatedly claims credit for conditions or policies implemented under his predecessors. He has bragged about reductions in air and water pollution that were the result of presidents going back decades. He has claimed credit for a reduction in lung cancer deaths based on a decades-long study that ended the year he took office. Perhaps most famously, he has repeatedly ― and falsely ― boasted about passing the “VA Choice Act,” which allows veterans to get medical care at private facilities if wait times are too long at Veteran Affairs clinics, even though it was signed into law by Obama.
But the economy is the one issue that could determine whether Trump succeeds or fails in his attempt to win a second term ― and his boasts about it are consistently misleading and, at times, simply false.
Trump repeatedly brags that unemployment among African Americans is at historic lows. While that was correct in August and September, the unemployment figure has risen since then, according to federal statistics. More broadly, the trend lines for both African Americans and Latinos show a steady decrease from the end of the 2008-09 recession, through the Obama presidency and to the present day, with no significant change in the slope of those graphs when Trump took office in January 2017.
“He’s largely riding trends he inherited,” said Jared Bernstein, once the chief economist to former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bernstein and other economists pointed out that the nation’s gross domestic product, after showing higher growth rates immediately after the passage of Republican-backed tax cuts in late 2017, have now dropped closer to 2% ― a figure that Trump and others called weak during the Obama years.
And that, Holtz-Eakin and Rothschild agreed, could be attributed to the trade war Trump picked with China starting in mid-2018, and from which the president has only recently started to back down.
“There are markets we’re probably not going to get back, and we’re going to have nothing to show for it,” Rothschild said. “The economy is moving along pretty well despite the best efforts of Donald Trump.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version used the wrong job creation number for Obama’s final three years. The correct number is 8.1 million (not 8.3 million), which is 1.5 million (not 1.7 million) more jobs created than in Trump’s first three years.