The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed more lackluster jobs numbers in the April unemployment report last week, prompting much discussion on the Sunday talk shows about whether the economic recovery has stalled under President Obama. Vice President Biden defended the administration’s handling of the employment situation by suggesting that the numbers are just fine,considering how bad things had become before he took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, and before “we got our first economic initiative passed.”
In a previous column, we awarded Biden two Pinocchios for similar assertions that missed the mark. Let’s take a look at the jobs numbers again to determine whether the vice president avoided past mistakes.
Biden said 700,000 jobs disappeared before he lowered his right hand and that another 3.5 million were lost before the Obama administration’s big economic bill became law. Biden’s overall statement, taken at face value, means the United States lost a total of 4.2 million jobs between Jan. 20, 2009, and the date when the president approved his first major economic legislation.
As before, we consulted BLS data on monthly job losses and gains to determine what really happened during Obama’s first year in the White House.
The nation lost 818,000 jobs during the month of January 2009, so Biden stands on fairly solid ground with his first claim, which assumes 700,000 of those jobs were lost before Jan. 20 of that year.
Let’s look at the second claim: “... before we got our first major economic initiative passed, we lost another 3.5 million jobs” for a total of 4.2 million.
Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill -- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- into law on Feb. 17, 2009. For the sake of argument, let’s grant Biden all of January and February of that year. The United States lost 1.5 million jobs during that time, which is not even half of what the vice president claimed.
We figured Biden might have been talking about the number of jobs lost between Inauguration Day and the time when the Recovery Act finally started having an impact, which would presumably be June 2009, when the recession ended. During that period, the country lost 3.9 million jobs, still not enough to meet the vice president’s number.
To reach 4.2 million, you have to include July, which tacks on another 339,000 jobs. But that time frame is arbitrary, since it reaches into the recovery period.
This isn’t the first time Biden has flubbed the facts while talking about job losses. We gave him two Pinocchios in our previous column, after he cited incorrect statistics when asserting that the nation had lost 5 million jobs six months before Obama took office and 3 million before the first bill was passed. White House officials said Biden had meant to say 3.5 million for the first figure and that he meant to count the 3 million job losses to until the law showed an impact.
In that first case, Biden botched the dates and numbers. With his recent comments on “Meet the Press,” his numbers are correct, but only if you expand the time frame about five months past when “we got our first major economic initiative passed.” Obviously, he referred to the wrong time frame again.
There are two possibilities here: The vice president is being careless when he talks about jobs numbers, or he’s deliberately taking liberties with dates and data to exaggerate the crisis in the economy before Obama took action. Either way, he’s not showing enough respect for the facts.
On a slightly different but related note, it’s worth pointing out that the Obama team tends to switch back and forth between private-sector and overall jobs numbers to suit its purposes.
Private-sector jobs have shown nothing but improvement since March 2010, so the president likes to use that data to discuss the economic recovery. But the numbers for overall employment since then have been negative at times, so the Obama camp uses those numbers to note how bad things were before his administration took over.
Case in point: Biden cited numbers for overall jobs as he talked about the depth of the recession. But a recent Obama campaign ad cites private-sector figures, which paint an especially rosy picture of the recovery since March 2010.
For what it’s worth, public-sector job losses have hindered overall employment numbers ever since stimulus funding ran dry.
This is not the first time the vice president has flubbed the facts on employment data. His numbers were better this time around, but he still referred incorrectly to the month that Obama signed the stimulus instead of the month the economy turned finally improved with the stimulus in place. He also still added the extra month of July 2009, even though that was a month into the recovery. This boosted his numbers for job losses.
We struggled with the decision of whether to award Biden with one or two Pinocchios for his remarks, because we normally cut politicians some slack for mixing up dates during interviews.
But in this case the vice president is a “repeat offender”--our new category-- so his claims warrant two Pinocchios.
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