The release of the November jobs report Friday morning offered good news for the economy writ large (big job growth, still to be adjusted) and therefore for President Obama. Obama has now observed the release of about three-quarters of the jobs reports that fell under his jurisdiction — 23 more until the presidential election! — meaning, as a corollary, that we now have a pretty good sense of how his tenure will be viewed.
Democrats and the president rightly focus on the big picture, the sweeping upward curve of overall jobs since the recession ended. Raw job counts aren't everything, but they are clearly important: More people working is a good thing. Here's the net change in jobs — both overall and for a few key sectors since Obama took office.
Because the economy is so big and so diverse, individual numbers tend to get hard to see in comparison to the overall trend. Health care stands out (here including social assistance workers); it has seen growth month after month after month. (Thank the aging population and the trend of increased health spending.)
When you look at the figures as percentage change since January 2009, it becomes more interesting.
As with everything else (except federal government jobs at Census time), the oil and gas industry sank with the recession. Since then, however, it has skyrocketed, as the expansion of fracking has resulted in thousands of new jobs, many of them in North Dakota. You can see the steady increase in health-care jobs — one of the few sectors that wasn't slowed as the economy tanked.
Three other things to note. Government jobs, federal and overall, are still well below levels that existed when Obama took office. You can see the dip in federal jobs (the dark blue line) thanks in part to the sequestration early in 2013. Also worth noting is construction, the line at the bottom of the chart. Construction jobs have increased slowly since the bottom of the recession, but are still nowhere near where they were in 2009.
And then there's coal mining. There are not a lot of people who work in coal mining, only about 76,000 as of the most recent jobs report. That means that small shifts in headcount have a large effect on percentage. Coal mining fell with the recession, rose again — and keeps sliding downward. It serves as a good point of punctuation to an assessment of Obama's record. Coal jobs have fallen in part because coal extraction has become more automated and more difficult, as easily accessible veins are exhausted. But symbolism (as we saw in Kentucky this year) can have an outsized political effect.
The Obama economy has been one of job growth, especially in sectors like health care and oil drilling. But it's safe to predict that candidates in 2016 will talk about coal mining and construction.