On paper, adding more than 6 million jobs sounds great. In a slightly broader context, though, it’s less striking. During President Barack Obama’s first term, the country added 231,000 jobs. But Obama took office at the tail end of the deepest recession in half a century. During Obama’s second term, the economy added more than 10 million jobs. In every month, more jobs were added, a trend that Trump continued.
Looking at the average change, 2019 has so far seen the slowest increase in employment — an increase of 167,000 jobs each month — since the 86,000 added each month on average in 2010. Trump’s overall monthly average is higher than Obama’s, but the average monthly job increase under Trump has been slower than it was in Obama’s second term.
Put another way, if the economy continued to add jobs at the pace it did during Obama’s second term, we would expect about 1.3 million more people to be employed now than are. The graph below shows that gap — and the more recent slowdown in job addition.
What that graph also shows is how steadily the number of people working has increased. Why? One big reason is that there are more people in the United States than at any point in history. More Americans means more Americans who can work, which means more people working than ever before. As we’ve pointed out before, it would have been hard for 155 million Americans to be working during the Roosevelt administration, as there weren’t 155 million Americans.
That said, the number of jobs added during Trump’s administration generally mirrors population growth.
Trump’s team uses a number of other tricks to make job growth seem larger than it has been. A communications staffer for Trump’s campaign on Friday morning touted the addition of 6.7 million new jobs — “since Nov. 2016.” In other words, they just tacked on a few extra months of job creation that occurred under Obama.
The campaign and Trump rationalize this by pointing to a surge in the stock market after Trump’s election, a reflection, they apparently contend, of a sudden surge in the economy. What the monthly jobs numbers really show is a broadly steady increase.
In fact, by measuring back to November 2016, the campaign is highlighting that the job growth isn’t a function of Trump. The economy added 170,000 jobs that month, up from 128,000 the month before. But in September 2016, the economy added 270,000 jobs — a mark that the economy wouldn’t surpass again until February 2018.
The ongoing addition of employment is an unalloyed good, of course, and that the economy continues to expand even at a low unemployment rate is impressive. What Trump likes to highlight, though, are the big numbers of total employment and the jobs added during his presidency — neither of which is as inherently remarkable as he likes to suggest.
Or — to open a can of worms and leave it there — something for which Trump can exclusively claim credit.