This report on Wikipedia seemed to indicate that about 11 million jobs were created during Obama's term. But there seems to be some controversy in the numbers, like from this source: claiming 14 million (from Obama's State of the Union address).

So which is it? How many jobs were created under Obama?


1 Answer 1


SOTU number was out of the "lies, big lies, and statistics" method of counting - yes, you can find a particular statistics to get that #, but it's quite misleading, both in how it was counted, and what was omitted from the full story.

  1. Methodology of what was counted is extremely misleading (cherry picking time period).

    • 14.4 million increase in jobs is measured against when the job market hit rock bottom in February 2010 to Jan 2016, not from the start of Obama's presidency or, even more properly, from the previous peak.

      If you compare the 2016 number of jobs to the previous jobs peak in January 2008 -- which is how job growth is normally measured -- the number of private-sector jobs has increased just 5.6 million (src: investors.com).

      The United States has only added about 9.3 million jobs during his term -- from the time Obama took office in January 2009 through December 2015 (src: CNN Money).

  2. Absolute numbers of job creation don't really tell the full story.

    • Absolute # isn't scaled to labor force growth.

      There were 143.1 million jobs in 2015. That's ten times more than the 31.5 million positions in 1939 (src)

      As per BLS data (via ri.gov), the average labor force growth in US has been ~4.7% per presidential term, or 9.62% per 2 terms. So, Obama's number (be it 14M or 9.3M or 5.6M) should be adjusted 9.6% down to normalize to GW Bush, and further to normalize to earlier presidents. You need to adjust by 19% down to compare to Clinton, and by 39% to compare to Reagan's #s.

      So, if you use Reagan as yardstick, as the last major recession recovery, Obama's #s need to be adjusted to 5.8M jobs since start of term (compared to Reagan's 16M) and 3.5M jobs since last peak (and even the extremely misleading 14M becomes 8.8M - compared to Reagan's 20M since trough).

      In all fairness, Obama's #s are for 7 years, not 8 full years. So, let's add a projected 2.1M for 2016, and we get:

      | Measurement (M)  | Reagan | Obama           | Obama (2016#) |
      | Since ...        |        | (scale to 1988) |               |
      | Peak (01/2008)   | ?      | 4.85            | 5.6+2.1=7.7   |
      | Term (1/2009)    | 16     | 7.18            | 9.3+2.1=11.4  |
      | Term low (2/2010)| 20     | 10.4            | 14.4+2.1=16.5 |

      This normalization can also be captured in the number known as Employment to Population ratio (graphs from Wash.Post):

      enter image description here

      enter image description here

    • More importantly, Labor force participation dropped from 65.7% to 62.7% under Obama, according to BLS, due to large numbers of people dropping out of labor force.

      enter image description here

  3. Absolute numbers of job creation don't really tell the full story because they don't specify what kinds of jobs.

    Specifically, under Obama, a far larger share of jobs created were part time, and/or low-wage jobs.

    It’s true that since 2007, job growth has come from a large range of fairly low-wage sectors. The food and drinking services industry, which includes most bars and restaurants, has grown by 17% — while average weekly pay in this industry is only $339 a week. Home-health care services — mostly home-health aides — has grown by an astonishing 48%, but the average weekly pay is only $548
    Source: WSJ blog

    But job losses and gains have been skewed. Higher-wage industries — like accounting and legal work — shed 3.6 million positions during the recession and have added only 2.6 million positions during the recovery. But lower-wage industries lost two million jobs, then added 3.8 million. (Source: New York Times, 2014)

    And that was reflected in lower pay

    As a result, the average household’s take-home pay has declined through the recession and the recovery to $51,017 in 2012 from $55,627 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. (NYT)

  4. Saying "During Obama's Presidency" creates an impression that it was attributable to Obama, as opposed to other factors that had nothing to do with him.

    • Generally, economy adds more jobs coming out of a recession. It's not president specific, and was true of both parties.

      those who inherited a recession, like Clinton, Obama, Reagan, Carter, and LBJ, did better at job creation (src).

    • Most experts indicate that President doesn't actually influence private sector job growth as much as other factors: business cycle, economic fundamentals, monetary policy (Obama benefitted from Federal Reserve's zero interest rates and QE measures), etc...

  5. To answer a somewhat-unasked "where did 14M and 11M figures came from":

    As you can see from bullet #3 and the table there:

    • 14M was the misleading number of jobs added since the low (2010) till Dec 2015, cited in Obama's SOTU.

    • 11M is the # of jobs projected to be for full Obama's term.

  • 2
    Nice answer. I'm also glad you added point 4. Presidents have very little direct influence on the economy, no matter what the campaign trail makes it sound like. At best, a cooperative Congress can follow the President's budgetary/tax lead.
    – Bobson
    Jan 1, 2017 at 3:16
  • @Bobson - there's some effect, but not nearly as much as everyone seems to believe.
    – user4012
    Jan 1, 2017 at 3:35
  • 1
    @Bobson If either of you think that the current form of the question gives too much credit to Obama (or whatever president), you should have seen it before I edited it. Note that presidents do have some influence on monetary policy, as they appoint some of the members of the Federal Reserve board of governors. The ironic part is that they appoint the chair about two years into their terms. So (for example) Reagan's choice (Greenspan) had more influence after Reagan's term. He inherited and reappointed Carter's choice (Volcker). Obama had Bush's choice (Bernanke) for six years.
    – Brythan
    Jan 1, 2017 at 4:44
  • @Bobson better?
    – user4012
    Jan 1, 2017 at 6:47
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    Small quibble as I enjoyed this answer thoroughly, the 11 million figure is net job (not absolute) creation according to their methodology on Wikipedia. People forget that George W. Bush inherited a recession as well (the Nasdaq declined 70%!). And one could easily argue that the Keynesian policies under Bernanke and Yellen hindered job creation, not helped it.
    – user9790
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:06

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