“Well, I think what I would say is that we are nowhere near where we need to be, but keep in mind that when I took office, we had already lost 4 million jobs in the previous quarter and lost another 4 million in the three months when I first came into office.”
— President Obama, Nov. 1, 2011, in an interview with WTVT of Tampa Bay
“From a policy standpoint, I think it's really important to know that President Obama was a job creator from day one. Now was the ditch that we were in so deep that when you're talking to people and they still don't have a job that that's any consolation to them? No, but I'll tell you this: If President Obama and the House congressional Democrats had not acted, we would be at 15 percent unemployment, again, no consolation to those without a job, but an important point to make.”
— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Nov. 3, 2011
With the economy still struggling, Democrats have begun to remind voters how difficult times were when Obama first took office — and to make the case that things would have been worse without the actions that were taken at the beginning of the president’s term.
But sometimes the language can get ahead of the facts, as we noted recently with Vice President Biden. Both President Obama and House Democratic Leader Pelosi this week threw out some specific numbers. How accurate are they?
President Obama’s numbers are easy to check. Let’s go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site and pull the data on monthly job loss or gains from the Current Employment Statistics survey.
The last quarter of 2008 shows a loss of 509,000 jobs in October, 802,000 in November and 619,000 in December. That adds up to 1.9 million — not 4 million.
And the first quarter of 2009 shows a loss of 802,000 jobs in January, 726,000 in February and 796,000 in March. That adds up to 2.3 million — not 4 million.
Now, maybe the numbers all blur after a while. When the president appeared on “The Daily Show” on Oct. 27, 2010, he was much more specific — and accurate.
“We lost 4 million jobs before I was sworn in; 750,000 the month I was sworn in; 600,000, the month after that; 600,000 the month after that. So most of the jobs that we lost were lost before the economic policies we put in place had any effect.”
Indeed, about 4 million jobs were lost in the period between the start of the recession in December 2007 and Obama’s inauguration. Then, from February to July, another 3.4 million jobs were lost. (One can quibble about when the policies began to have an effect.) With a longer time horizon, Obama’s statement would have been much closer to being accurate.
“The economy had lost about 8 million jobs before the President’s policies had a chance to take effect,” said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich. “While much work remains, those policies have stabilized the economy and put us on a path to recovery.”
Meanwhile, Pelosi on Thursday appeared to be making a more partisan point — that it was Obama and the congressional Democrats who saved the country from the possibility of 15 percent unemployment.
Asked about that specific figure, her staff directed us to a report issued last year, by Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, that was titled, “How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End.” A spokesman pointed out a table on page 6, which showed unemployment would have been above 15 percent in 2010 — actually 16.3 percent — “with no policy response.”
But, wait, “no policy response” means absolutely nothing was done — including no Federal Reserve action and no Troubled Asset Relief Program started under President George W. Bush. If just the fiscal policies are considered, such as the stimulus bill, cash for clunkers and other bills passed by Obama and Congress, what would have happened? A chart on page 9 shows that while the impact still was important, the unemployment rate now would have been 11.4 percent.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said she misspoke. “She meant federal role, including TARP and Fed,” he said. He added that passage of TARP under Bush would not have happened without the support of congressional Democrats.
It is important to note that this is just one of at least nine studies about the impact of government actions taken at the start of the Obama administration, some of which were much less generous in assessing its impact.
The Pinocchio Test
We are going to be relatively generous here because in both cases, the staff for Obama and Pelosi acknowledged that the language of their bosses went a bit too far — and they could point to underlying data that supported their broad point.
Moreover, we realize everyone misspeaks from time to time. (Or mistypes. There are days when we wish we could take back a word or two in this column.)
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker