It’s an election year, so we’re hearing a lot about whether the economy performs better when Republicans or Democrats are in charge. One of the statistics being advanced by many Democrats concerns job creation. We’re currently living through a historically long streak of months with positive job growth; they present this as evidence the economy has been strong on President Barack Obama’s watch.
Now, it’s also true that the U.S. economy has been growing, on average, a full percentage point below its long-term trend line. But never mind that: Let’s examine job growth in its own right.
First, while the current streak may be the longest in federal annals that date back to 1939, it’s also one of the weakest. Since World War II ended, there have been nine periods when job-creation was positive for at least 24 straight months. Only once was the average number of jobs added per month lower.
Keep in mind, these figures aren’t adjusted for population. So while the current average of 203,000 jobs added per month is roughly the same as the 205,000 average from August 1972 to July 1974, the country now has about 108 million more people. Accounting for that growth, the earlier streak’s growth rate was much faster. The only slower streak was the expansion during George W. Bush’s presidency. (There’s more about this aspect in my previous posting here.)
Of course, assigning credit or blame for these things to presidents ignores the role of Congress. Republicans have controlled Congress about 60 percent of the time during the current streak. Should they get as much credit as Obama for its length (or blame for its weakness)?
Partisan control also comes into play when we consider one of the other big factors in evaluating these things: state policies.
Whoever holds the reins in Washington, some states fare better economically than others. And that further complicates the narrative about economic strength when one party occupies the White House.
Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia of U.S. politics, measured partisan control of governorships, state houses and state senates over the past quarter-century. If the GOP had at least 80 percent control — say, all three entities for four out of five years — it’s “red.” If the Democrats had between 60 percent and 80 percent control — maybe both chambers but not the governorship for several years — it’s “light blue.” If neither party reached the 60 percent threshold, it’s “purple.” (Obviously, there are also “light red” and “blue.” Note also that while the Ballotpedia measure linked above only goes to 2013, I’ve extended it to present day for this column.)
Over the last three complete business cycles (which take us through Ballotpedia’s data, back to the peak of July 1990) red and light red states have fared better than their Democratic counterparts. Over the entire period, job growth in GOP-led states was 40 percent faster than those in blue and light blue states, and 33 percent faster than in purple states.
During the current expansion it has been closer: just 2 percent faster in the red and light-red states. But the deep red states have added jobs at a 30 percent faster rate than the deep blue ones.
Even on Obama’s watch, then, you’ve had a better chance of finding a job in a red state than a blue one. That’s something to bear in mind no matter which party wins the White House in November.