If the economy produces jobs over the next eight months at the same pace as it did over the past four months, the nation will have created more jobs in 2010 alone than it did over the entire eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
That comparison comes with many footnotes and asterisks. But it shows how the economic debate between the parties could look very different over time — perhaps by November, more likely by 2012. More important, the comparison underscores the urgency of repairing an American job-creation machine that was sputtering long before the 2008 financial meltdown.
First, the numbers: From February 2001, Bush’s first full month in office, through January 2009, his last, total U.S. nonfarm employment grew from 132.5 million to 133.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s an increase, obviously, of just 1 million. From January through April of this year, the economy created 573,000 jobs. Over a full year, that projects to 1.72 million jobs. Job-creation numbers are notoriously volatile, so the actual result could run above or below that estimate. But Obama administration economists are increasingly optimistic that job growth this year will exceed expectations. Few of them will be surprised if more jobs are created in 2010 than over Bush’s two terms.
Now the principal footnote: To compare job growth in 2010 with Bush’s record ignores the nearly 4 million jobs lost in Obama’s first year, during the freefall that began in Bush’s final months. That’s like ignoring a meteor strike. Over time, voters are likely to judge Obama by his degree of success in eliminating that deficit and reducing unemployment. Still, if the economy this year produces more than 1 million jobs — or, conceivably, more than 2 million — that will give Democrats more ammunition to argue that their agenda has started to turn the tide.