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Rick Perry’s claim that Obama has ‘killed more jobs’ than any other president

at 06:00 AM ET, 08/22/2011


(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“The president’s been on a jobs tour. As a matter of fact, we crossed paths when we were in the state of Iowa. He had his big ol’ bus – his big ol’ 1.2 million-dollar bus, made in Canada – but, anyway, the real issue is our president’s out there, and he goes on a jobs tour. This is the president of the United States that has killed more jobs in America than I think any president in history, certainly in my lifetime. I think the only job he cares about is the one he’s got.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 19, 2011

The Texas governor speaks in no-nonsense, blunt sentences, and the statement above, made while campaigning in Florence, S.C., is a prime example.

Perry was a little high on the cost of the presidential bus — it was $1.1 million — but he is correct that the shell of the bus is from Canada. Still, only one company makes this kind of bus — and then it was retrofitted by a Tennessee company.

Perry does not mention that George W. Bush tooled around in the same type of bus in 2004 — or that the Secret Service ordered an identical bus for the GOP presidential nominee. We’re not sure what Perry (or whoever becomes the GOP nominee) would do if they want to have a bus tour in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign. Would he/she really reject the Secret Service’s advice to use the bus?

But what really caught our eye was the statement that President Obama “has killed more jobs” than any other president in history. That’s somewhat similar to a line former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trotted out about six months ago, for which he earned one Pinocchio, but Romney’s statement was much more cleverly and carefully worded — in effect, a reflex hammer compared to the sledgehammer of Perry’s statement.

The Facts

Here’s what Romney said in February: “President Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history.”

Unlike Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, who did not respond to a request for documentation, Romney’s people at the time were fully prepared to try to make the case for Romney’s claim. And note that Romney did not actually blame Obama for the job losses; he simply said that Obama has “stood watch” over the job losses, which was technically true.

Romney based his claim on the monthly job data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed that from January 2009 to January 2011, the number of jobs lost totaled about 4 million. But since then, another 862,000 jobs have been added, reducing the total job loss under Obama to about 3.2 million.

Moreover, the same data set shows that the economy started losing jobs nearly 12 months before Obama took the oath of office — for a total of 2.3 million jobs. In fact, 820,000 jobs were lost just in January 2009, and Obama took office Jan. 21, so he was president for less than half that month.

If you move January 2009 to the pre-Obama period, then the job losses are about 3.1 million before he took office and 2.2 million after he took office. Perry claims that Obama has “killed” these jobs, but clearly by any reasonable measure Obama took office in the middle of a pretty bad recession.

What about Perry’s claim that Obama has killed more jobs than any other president? The Labor Department data only goes back to 1939, so we aren’t able to compare Obama’s record with, say, Herbert Hoover, who was president during the Great Depression. Perry did add a caveat — “certainly in my lifetime”— so perhaps the question is whether Obama is the worst since 1950, the year of Perry’s birth.

First of all, a raw number — 2.2 million jobs lost in 2 ½ years — is pretty meaningless unless it is adjusted for the number of people employed.

When Romney made his statement, both Ronald Reagan and Obama were tied for the first two years of their presidency — a decline of about 2.3 percent in the number of people employed. The economy, however, really started to pick up in Reagan’s third year, while it has flagged under Obama, so for the first 2 ½ years, Obama’s record is now worse: a decline of about 1.4 percent under Obama, versus 0.5 percent under Reagan.

The Pinocchio Test

We gave Romney one Pinocchio because his statement lacked context even though it was technically accurate. Judging from Perry’s statements in his first week as a candidate, he doesn’t seem to care all that much about even technical accuracy; he just shoots from the hip.

Unless the economy turns around in the next 18 months, Obama is on track to have the worst jobs record of any president in the modern era. That would be an accurate statement. But he also became president in the midst of the worst recession of our lifetimes — and it seems a real stretch to make him personally responsible for every one of those lost jobs, without bothering to offer a shred of evidence for the claim.

Two Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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