August's job numbers, released last week, offered good news in at least one key way: The number of people who are working went up. The good news didn't travel much farther than that, but it was good enough for the White House:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 5, 2014
But that lacks context. So we will add some.
Since the first month of Obama's first term, the country has added 5.1 million jobs, according to data from the Federal Reserve. Among presidents who have served since Dwight Eisenhower took office in 1953, that's not the high. But how you want to calculate the high varies.
At this point in their administrations, only Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton had created as many jobs versus their first months in office. But several presidents who never made it to their second terms did better: Carter had added more jobs, as had Lyndon Johnson, by the time each left office. Kennedy and Ford, with truncated terms, didn't. George H. W. Bush didn't do as well; George W. Bush didn't either, but his peak was higher than Obama's current peak.
The administration is happy to talk more about job creation versus the low point reached during its tenure than the number of jobs since Day One. The graph at the top of this article, showing the declining job count in red, is designed intentionally, to pin the blame for the bad economy at the start of Obama's term on his predecessor. When you compare job growth to the low point in each president's tenure, Obama's doing a little better -- but basically the same as Nixon.
This is a little unfair, though, because adding 5 million jobs in a country with 310 million people is different than adding 5 million jobs in a country of 150 million, as it was in 1950.
There's another metric tracked by the Federal Reserve, called the employment-to-population ratio. It is exactly what it sounds like, a comparison of employment to the actual population. (We explored this a little last week.) On that metric, comparing the percentage point change from his month in office, Obama doesn't do very well at all.
Only Eisenhower was doing worse at this point in his administration compared to where he started. Even Bush was doing better, but his rating was about to plunge dramatically.
Which, Obama would certainly note if he were to read this article (and if you are reading, Mr. President, feel free to leave a comment) -- that Bush plunge means Obama has had to make up more ground.
He hasn't made much of it up.
Here, the big winner is Reagan, who rebounded nicely from the recession in the early 1980s. Obama stays pretty flat. And in second is Clinton -- who never had a recession to rebound from.
Which president created the most jobs? That's somewhat open to interpretation. But by any metric, it wasn't Obama.