“Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42.”
— former president Bill Clinton, Sept. 5, 2012
In his nominating speech for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, the former president tossed out this interesting statistic. We wanted to think about it overnight before we issued a ruling.
Here’s the conundrum: The numbers add up, but do they mean anything?
The statistic comes from a May report by Bloomberg News, which calculated that since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, non-governmental payrolls “swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents.” The report said that Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 new private-sector jobs a month, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans.
The Bloomberg article included an interesting chart. Clinton did not brag about it, but the chart shows that Clinton by himself actually accounted for a full half of the total for Democrats — 21 million jobs over eight years. On the GOP side of the ledger, Ronald Reagan accounted for 63 percent of the Republican total during his two terms in office.
Interestingly, Bloomberg noted that Republicans had a slightly better record of creating public-sector jobs, despite current pledges to cut government spending — an average of 21,000 jobs per month under Republicans, compared with 22,000 for Democrats.
But here’s why this is a bit of a nonsense fact:
1. The time span is too long. Fifty years is a long time to make conclusions about economic performance of different political parties. The policies of Republican Richard Nixon, who by today’s standards would be considered a liberal on domestic policy, reflect little of the positions of today’s Republican Party.
2. The economy does not start or end with a president’s term. It’s a bit silly — though common — to suggest that a president is directly responsible for every job lost or created as soon as he takes the oath of office. This is why Republicans regularly blame Obama for the 750,000 jobs lost every month in the first three months of his tenure — even though none of his policies had taken effect.
Similarly, Clinton benefited from the deficit-reduction package passed by Republican George H.W. Bush, at great political cost. And Reagan was aided by the tough fiscal medicine demanded by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, a Jimmy Carter appointee.
3. Luck is a good part of it. Clinton, for instance, took office just as a recession was ending — and just as the computer revolution was about to begin, boosting productivity and spawning huge fortunes in the stock market. No doubt, Clinton was skillful enough to take advantage of these economic circumstances, but one cannot attribute all of those jobs on his watch to his specific policies.
The Pinocchio Test
We considered giving this our “true but false” label but instead settled on One Pinocchio. For readers unfamiliar with our rating scale, a single Pinocchio does not represent an outright falsehood but more a selective telling of the truth. In this case, the numbers add up, but they are used to reach a conclusion that doesn’t tell you much about how either political party has managed the economy in the past — or would in the future.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker
Track each presidential candidate's campaign ads