“Look, Candy, the six months before we took office, the bottom fell out. There were 5 million jobs lost. Before we got the first bill passed, another 3 million jobs lost. So we started off with an 8 million job deficit that wasn't of our making.”
— Vice President Biden, Oct. 23, 2011, on CNN’s “State of the Union”
This column has been updated
Vice President Biden, after dealing with some uncomfortable questions about his over-the-top language on rape and murder statistics, was asked by host Candy Crowley to defend the administration’s handling of the U.S. economy.
Biden made the claim above, and we nearly fell out of our chair. We knew the economy was bad when President Obama took office, but was it really that bad?
The first thing we did, we went to the trusted Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site and pulled the data on monthly job loss or gains from the Current Employment Statistics survey.
Biden referred to the “first bill,” which technically means the equal-pay legislation known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (Jan. 30, 2009). But we assume he means the $800 billion stimulus bill, which Obama signed on Feb. 17. Being generous, let’s credit Obama all of January and February, even though he only took office on Jan. 20.
Let’s break down the data, claim by claim:
“The six months before we took office”
We count 2.9 million jobs lost from July to December — not 5 million.
(UPDATE: We are embarrassed, really embarrassed, to say an earlier version of this column had a lower number because we counted the wrong year.)
“Before we got the first bill passed”
We count 1.5 million jobs lost in January and February — not 3 million.
So that totals 4.4 million jobs, instead of Biden’s 8 million.
Two White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded that Biden “slightly misspoke” but that his main point is valid. So how do they explain his math?
The officials count six months before Obama took office as being August to January, since George W. Bush was still president during most of the month of January. That adds up to 3.5 million jobs. Their excuse is that Biden meant to say 3.5 million, not 5 million.
Then they say he meant to say “before the first bill had an impact,” which in their minds would be another six months, February through July. That’s another 3.4 million lost jobs. Adding the two figures brings you to 7 million jobs — not quite 8 million, but apparently close enough in Bidenland.
We agree that the economy was in free-fall when Obama took office. The question is when do you begin to date whether Obama’s efforts have been effective. Some Republicans date from passage of the stimulus bill, since tax cuts went into immediate effect. That’s defensible but perhaps not quite fair.
We’ve argued that the best turning point for these kinds of measurements is the official end of the recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER says the recession that began in December 2007 ended in June 2009. Biden makes things look even grimmer, going a month beyond that date, tacking another 300,000 in job losses.
Meanwhile, U.S. job growth since the end of the recession has been pretty anemic — fewer than 1 million new jobs over a period of 27 months.
You almost need to footnote every aspect of Biden’s statement.
Biden’s overall point — the economy was in deep trouble just before and after Obama became president — is valid. But he would have been on safer ground if he had simply asserted: “6.5 million jobs were lost in the six months before we took office and before the end of the recession.” That would have been correct.
We wavered whether this was worth three Pinocchios or just two — we don’t do half-Pinocchios — but in the end decided it leaned more toward two. We don’t plan to play a game of gotcha on the difference between 3.5 million and 5 million, or whether Biden forgot to mention the “impact” of the first bill. Everyone misspeaks — some politicians more than others.