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Clinton’s misleading citation of ’15 million jobs’ under Obama

(Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“Under their leadership we’ve created 15 million new private-sector jobs, 20 million people now have health care and the auto industry just had its best year ever.”
— Hillary Clinton, speech in Scranton, Pa., Aug. 15, 2016

“We’ve got to build on the progress we’ve made, 15 million new jobs in the last 7 1/2 years, 20 million people now have health insurance who did not have it before he became president.”
— Clinton, remarks to black and Hispanic journalists, Aug. 5

“We now have 15 million new jobs that have been created in the last 7 1/2 years. We now have 20 million more Americans who have access to health care.”
— Clinton, rally in Omaha, Aug. 1

“Our economy is so much stronger than when they took office. Nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs, 20 million more Americans with health insurance, and an auto industry that just had its best year ever.”
— Clinton, acceptance speech at Democratic National Convention, July 29

“Now, thank goodness under President Obama, we’ve dramatically reduced the unemployment rate. Fifteen million private-sector jobs. So we’re climbing out of it. But there’s still an awful lot of repair work to be done.”
— Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, interview on CNN, July 29

If there’s one thing that drives the Fact Checker nuts, it’s a repeated talking point that is based on actual data but is obviously misleading.

The Clinton campaign is clearly fond of saying that 15 million jobs —  or, alternatively, 15 million private-sector jobs —  were created in the Obama administration. Clinton frequently indicates that she’s talking about the entire Obama administration. She uses phrases such “than when they took office” or “in the last 7 1/2 years.”

But that’s 5 million jobs too many.

The Facts

Regular readers know that we tend to discount job-creation records by a president, as so much of the record is due to economic forces beyond a president’s control. Obama took office amid a massive recession, when the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month. It seems silly to blame him for those job losses — just as he can’t claim credit for all of the job gains since the recession. But if people are going to tally up job creation in a presidential term, they need to get the dates right.

Counting from January 2009, there have been 10.8 million private-sector jobs created in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you count all jobs, including government jobs, the figure is 10.4 million.

So how does Clinton come up with 15 million? She’s counting from the low point for jobs in Obama’s presidency — February 2010. When you start the clock from then, the tally is 15 million private-sector jobs and 14.7 million overall jobs.

The last time we checked, February 2010 was 6 1/2 years ago. Clinton is trying to wipe off a year of Obama’s presidency.

Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin responded that “if you look at the context of most of these it’s clear she’s talking about it in the context of having pulled us out of the recession, which is what the stat describes.” For instance, at the event in Scranton, Clinton said, “President Obama and Vice President Biden pulled us back from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and put our economy back on a stronger footing.”

But the Great Recession, which started in December 2007, actually ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of business cycles.

Dating from the end of the Great Recession, you end up with a gain of about 13 million jobs. That’s closer to Clinton’s number – but it’s still less than 15 million.

This graph from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis illustrates this well. You can see that the recession (in gray) ended in the middle of 2009. The number of jobs kept falling until the beginning of 2010, at which point the job figures slowly started to improve. Not until May 2014, in Obama’s second term, was there actual positive job creation.

It’s worth noting that Obama often also dated his job-creation numbers from February 2010, but generally his language was very specific, making clear he was talking about a time period that did not start with his presidency. If Obama can be so precise, we cannot imagine why Clinton cannot also adopt more careful phrasing.

[Update, Oct. 24: Kaine, in a speech on Oct. 21, put it this way: “With very little help, we’ve added 15 million private sector jobs since the depths of the recession.” Kudos, that’s an acceptable way to frame it.]

The Pinocchio Test

Clinton is clearly trying to use the biggest jobs number possible. But she can’t be so cute and leave listeners with the impression that all of these jobs were created since the start of Obama’s term in office. All she needs to do is make it clear that she is talking about this particular streak of job creation. Until then, she earns Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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