The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

President Obama, Completely Wrong on Reason for High Unemployment


CBS’s Mark Knoller, covering a town hall on the economy with the president this morning, reports: “President Obama blames high unemployment rate on ‘huge layoffs of government workers’ at federal, state and local levels.”

This is completely wrong. Extremely and mind-bogglingly wrong. Epically wrong.

First, let’s look at the numbers for private-sector employment. All figures come from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Recent peak of private-sector employment, June 2007: 116,603,000.

Total private-sector employment in the month Obama became president, January 2009: 109,084,000.

Recent low of private-sector employment, January 2010: 104,933,000.

Total private-sector employment, April 2011: 108,494,000 (Seasonally adjusted: 108,862,000).

So note, we are about 8 million away from the most recent peak in private-sector employment.

Now, let’s look at total government employment (at all levels) for those four months:

June 2007: 22,176,000.

January 2009: 22,471,000.

January 2010: 22,376,000.

April 2011: 22,594,000 (preliminary).

As you can see, in terms of total number of Americans employed in government, there has been no real discernible recession. In fact, the number has increased slightly.

Now let’s look at the number of people employed in state government during these months:

June 2007: 4,918,000.

January 2009: 5,116,000.

January 2010: 5,053,000.

April 2011: 5,253,000 (preliminary).

Again, not only pretty stable, but slowly climbing.

Now let’s look at employment in local government:

June 2007: 14,514,000.

January 2009: 14,583,000.

January 2010: 14,478,000.

April 2011:  14,492,000 (preliminary).

Again, the numbers are stable, and even indicate that local government employment is increasing, not decreasing.

Obama is not even a little bit right. Will anyone call him out on this?

UPDATE: The full quote is here:

“The reason the unemployment rate is still as high as it is, in part, is because there have been huge layoffs of government workers at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level,” he said. “Teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers– they have really taken it in the chin over the last several months. And so, what we’re trying to do is to see if we can stabilize the budget.”

Again, completely false. There has not been a significant reduction — or even variation, really — in the size of the government workforce at the federal, state, and local level.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, Reno Dave notes that in one case I used seasonally-adjusted numbers instead of non-seasonally adjusted numbers. I have added the non-seasonally-adjusted number for consistency. He notes that using the seasonally adjusted numbers, the total government workforce has varied slightly differently in the selected months:

June 2007: 22,218,000.

January 2009: 22,582,000.

January 2010: 22,488,000.

April 2011: 22,166,000 (preliminary).

You end up with 300,000 or so fewer government workers in the past 16 months. (Notice that the Census hiring effects these numbers a bit; the number of Census employees went from 24,000 in January 2010 to 564,000 in May 2010 all the way down to 1,000 in October 2010. More details here.)

However, that’s a fraction of the 12.3 million unemployed Americans above age 20 in the most recent BLS report. In other words, if we presume that none of those 300,000 laid off government workers have been rehired anywhere, they make up about 2.4 percent of the currently unemployed.

Tags: Barack Obama


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