However unwittingly, President Biden rendered the nation a major public service on Friday with his remarks on his administration’s achievements in boosting American job creation. Specifically, he provided a good indication of how many ways and how dramatically economic data can be spun.
According to the President, “we have added 6.4 million new jobs since January of last year — in one year. And that’s one of the most — that’s the most jobs in any calendar year by any president in history.”
A look at the data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that Mr. Biden actually slightly understated calendar 2021 overall net new job creation. Non-farm payrolls (BLS’ definition of the American employment universe) increased by 6.448 million during this period.
Mr. Biden’s focus on the calendar year, however, means that he’s taking credit for January. Not only wasn’t he inaugurated until January 20, but each month’s BLS job increase numbers cover the period between the middles of each month. (See the “Technical Note” section of each month’s report.) So the January job creation he’s claiming as his own stopped days before he entered office.
If it’s assumed that the current administration’s impact on employment (and the rest of the economy) didn’t start until the President took the Oath of Office – on a monthly basis, in February – then the employment increase that’s taken place on his watch so far is 6.215 million. That’s nearly 200,000 less than he claimed.
There’s no question that the employment picture orders of magnitude better than that of the last calendar year of the Trump administration – when non-farm payrolls cratered by 9.416 million.
At the same time, that calendar year includes the depths of the steep economic downturn induced by the CCP Virus’ arrival in the United States. In March and April, American employment levels crashdove by a sickening 22.362 million. And as should be remembered, including by those who view the Trump response to the pandemic itself as disastrously bad, this employment calamity mainly stemmed not from Trump economic policy decisions that presumably were inferior to their Biden administration counterparts. They mainly stemmed from health-related economic and behavioral restrictions that the former President supported only belatedly and reluctantly.
In fact, once the economy began reopening (raggedly, to be sure), job creation skyrocketed. From April, 2020 through January. 2021 – bringing the story up to just about the end of Trump’s presidency – NFP rose 12.575 million. That’s twice as much in absolute terms in nine months as in Mr. Biden’s 11 months in office.
As implied, though, this rapid improvement wasn’t mainly Trump’s doing. Clearly, economic stimulus measures helped. But far more important was a reopening and highly uneven return to economic normality. Moreover, because of the federal government’s limited authority over issues such as whether businesses closed altogether, or operate during limited hours, or how their customers should behave, the reopening decisions were overwhelmingly taken at the state and local level.
But as known by RealityChek regulars, President Biden’s remarks ignore a more fundamental concern: The kinds of absolute increases touted by President Biden are far from the whole story when it comes to judging economic performance, and can profoundly mislead even factoring out the whopping distortions of the economy created by the CCP Virus. At least as important are relative increases (or decreases) – in this case, because the size of the American workforce keeps changing.
And when the Biden job creation record is presented in terms of percentage increase, it doesn’t look so extraordinary at all. The Washington Post‘s Andrew Van Dam put it perfectly yesterday:
“The 6.4 million jobs gained this year, while a record in absolute terms, represents only a 4.5 percent increase in the workforce. That’s smaller than the 5.0 percent growth seen in 1978, when a much smaller labor force added 4.3 million jobs. In fact, relative to the size of the workforce, it’s only the 11th best calendar year since record-keeping began in 1939.”
Biden’s boasts about the economy certainly aren’t the first issuing from the Oval Office. Indeed, they’re no more exaggerated than TrumpWorld’s repeated claims that, pre-virus, he “helped America build its strongest economy in history.” But they’re also a needed reminder that whoever’s in office – a Democrat or Republican, an establishmentarian or a disrupter – their economic pronouncements are bound to deserve some Pinocchios.