The Campaign Spot

Obama’s ‘Consecutive-Months of Job Creation’ Smoke & Mirrors

In today’s article about the ubiquitous “unexpectedly” adverb in economic reports, I note that President Obama likes to talk about how many consecutive months the American economy has seen private-sector job growth.

What Obama says is technically true — I suppose Vice President Biden would say “literally” — but increasing the number of private-sector jobs doesn’t necessarily bring down the unemployment rate. The single biggest factor is that the size of the labor pool normally grows from month to month, and while economists disagree on precisely how many jobs need to be added each month just to keep pace with the additional workers, it generally ranges from 100,000 per month (AP) to 100,000 to 125,000 (Heritage Foundation) to about 130,000 (New York Times). Some say a “sustained recovery” requires 250,000 jobs per month.

For perspective, the U.S. economy lost 8.8 million jobs in this recession.

All figures are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Private-Sector Job Growth, by Month

July 2011

154,000 (preliminary)

June 2011

80,000 (preliminary)

May 2011

99,000

April 2011

241,000

March 2011

219,000

February 2011

261,000

January 2011

94,000

December 2010

167,000

November 2010

128,000

October 2010

193,000

September 2010

112,000

August 2010

143,000

July 2010

117,000

June 2010

61,000

May 2010

51,000

April 2010

241,000

March 2010

158,000

February 2010

62,000

January 2010

16,000

December 2009

-83,000

Depending on your measuring stick, during these 19 months of private-sector job creation, the U.S. only “gained ground” in 12 of them (if the threshold is 100,000) or 9 of them (if the threshold is 130,000). At no point has job creation hit the “sustained recovery” threshold.

One last point: In April 2010, Vice President Biden declared, “I’m here to tell you, some time in the next couple of months, we’re going to be creating between 250,000 jobs a month and 500,000 jobs a month.”

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