The aggressive actions helped build a floor under the most severe economic collapse since the Great Depression, many economists agree. Yet the president’s policies have not ignited anything close to the robust jobs growth needed to overcome the huge losses the downturn caused.
Since the economy emerged from the deep recession in June 2009, employers have added an average of 87,000 jobs a month, according to the latest government figures. That is not quite enough to keep pace with the normal growth in the labor force, let alone significantly reduce the unemployment rate.
Overall, the economy has just over 1 million more jobs than it did in February 2009, Obama’s first full month in office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The tepid pace of job creation is perhaps the president’s biggest political vulnerability as his reelection campaign enters its final weeks. The unemployment rate was stuck above 8 percent for 43 consecutive months before falling to 7.8 percent in September. And nearly 5 million Americans have been out of work for six months or more.
With the economy struggling through one of the weakest recoveries on record and employers adding jobs at a slower pace than a year ago, projections are that the nation’s unemployment rate will not return to normal levels for years to come.
A ‘feeble’ recovery
Analysts say the persistent high level of joblessness is a prime factor in the income and wealth declines that have continued
for most Americans, even after the recession. Obama, who came into office promising to bolster the middle class and reduce inequality, has presided over a turbulent economy that has done neither.
While big business has experienced record profits in recent years, and the stock market is approaching its pre-recession peak, the share of people employed or looking for work has fallen to its lowest level in decades, according to the Labor Department.
“This was not a normal recession. It was a credit crisis that left many people deep in debt, and the economy was dropping like a rock when the president took office,” said Steven C. Kyle, a Cornell University economics professor. “His policies have addressed the dropping-like-a rock part. But the recovery has been much slower than anyone would like. It has been as feeble as the most feeble recoveries we have seen.”
On the stump, the president acknowledges that the job market is far from strong. But he also notes that his early policies helped repair an economy that shed 818,000 jobs in the month he took office.
“I think the American public accepts that those measures were necessary, and they were important in helping us avoid another depression,” said Brian Deese, an Obama economic adviser. “I think the challenge is that those measures are not sufficient and that we are not anywhere near where we need to be, which is why the president has been pushing Congress on a host of other jobs measures.”