The Washington Post

Jobs report shows an economy on the move

IF VOTERS ARE assessing President Obama based on their job prospects — well, he asked for it. In a Jan. 15, 2009, meeting with The Post’s editors and reporters, Mr. Obama told us how he should be judged four years later: “Have we created jobs that get the economy back on track, businesses investing again, people feel some confidence, that we’re on the move? That is my number-one priority.”

Friday’s employment report gave Mr. Obama a reason to crow. Having hit a high of 10 percent in October 2009, the jobless rate fell in September to 7.8 percent, the level it was when Mr. Obama took office amid a historic wave of job losses. More important, it fell even as the labor force grew; previous rate declines partly reflected worker discouragement. The percentage of adults with a job rose from 58.3 percent to 58.7 percent, wages by 0.3 percent.

This is not small progress, considering the depths of the recession with which Mr. Obama was confronted upon taking office and considering that no president can fix, or ruin, the U.S. economy by himself — let alone the global economy upon which the United States depends. Unemployment probably would have been worse but for some of Mr. Obama’s policies, such as the financial-sector rescue, a government-funded auto industry restructuring and, yes, many elements of the $814 billion stimulus package he pushed through Congress over much Republican opposition. That’s a fact, even if only the auto bailout is popular enough for Mr. Obama to tout in the campaign.

Yet some of what went right began even before Mr. Obama took office: President George W. Bush got the $700 billion financial bailout fund through Congress in 2008, then used it to keep General Motors and Chrysler alive through Inauguration Day. The Federal Reserve’s monetary policies, too, have propped up the economy; Chairman Ben S. Bernanke recently claimed that the Fed’s actions alone saved 2 million jobs.

Mr. Obama’s more targeted strategies, notably the subsidized loans for green energy and various mortgage-relief efforts, have not always panned out. Meanwhile, the fracking revolution in oil and gas created thousands of jobs, which Mr. Obama had little or nothing to do with.

All told, the economy has restored 3.2 million of the 8 million jobs it shed between December 2007, when the recession began, and June 2009, when it ended. Mr. Bernanke used the words “grave concern” to describe the jobs outlook just two weeks ago, and Friday’s report does not necessarily refute him. Neither investment nor business confidence — Mr. Obama’s other two benchmarks — have fully rebounded. The former remains about $100 billion below its pre-recession quarterly peak of $1.7 trillion and has been decelerating for the last year; the latter, as measured by the Purchasing Managers Index, a widely used measure of business confidence, is higher than it was in January 2009 but has been trending downward for the past six months.

Businesses’ risk aversion is partly due to Washington gridlock and the impending fiscal cliff it has produced. Mr. Obama deserves his portion of blame, as do the Republicans who would oust him. But election-year angst aside, the United States experienced an epochal financial crisis in 2008, and recovery from a post-financial-crisis recession takes time, perhaps more than one presidential term. Banks are still healing, industry is still restructuring and households are still deleveraging.

Is the U.S. economy “on the move,” as Mr. Obama wanted? Yes, but slowly, slowly — and there’s no guarantee it won’t stall again, no matter who wins in November.

Show Comments
Washington Post Subscriptions

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

A limited time offer for Apple Pay users.

Buy with
Cancel anytime

$9.99/month after the two month trial period. Sales tax may apply.
By subscribing you agree to our Terms of Service, Digital Products Terms of Sale & Privacy Policy.

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing
Read content from allstate
Content from Allstate This content is paid for by an advertiser and published by WP BrandStudio. The Washington Post newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more about WP BrandStudio.
We went to the source. Here’s what matters to millennials.
A state-by-state look at where Generation Y stands on the big issues.