About those claims the economy performs better under Democrats

People seeking work stand in line outside a job fair in Cobb County, January 2015 (Jonathan Phillips / Special)

People seeking work stand in line outside a job fair in Cobb County, January 2015 (Jonathan Phillips / Special)

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.

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
JKToole
JKToole

You didn't mention if you adjusted YOUR numbers to include population for your "study" or the dollars for inflation or lack thereof in the case of the last few years.If your  argument needs statistics, you ought to have done a better job arguing.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Good info, Kyle, but those who wish to remain willfully uniformed in order to continue to advocate more government programs and more socialism/progressivism will not be easily swayed. Every dollar government removes from the economy is one less dollar the private sector can use to grow, expand, and create jobs.  Yes, we need infrastructure and a clean environment so there are ways government spending helps the economy, but much of that is offset by needless regulations and controls.  Obamacare is a perfect example of how over the top government intervention can hobble the economy and job growth.


To admit that government usually restrains the economy more so than it ever invigorates the economy, means that our ever present movement toward more socialism and progressivism is counter productive, if you wish to put people back to work.  When you compare the growth and vibrant economy in tax free conservative states like Texas, FL, and TN against the stagnant economy of places like Michigan, CA, and Illinois, it is easy to see which philosophy we should be pursuing on the federal level.  I make frequent trips to Texas, and it is always like a trip back in time, to the eighties in Atlanta.

TicTacs
TicTacs

@RafeHollister Boy that private sector does so well with the f-35 fighter.


Don't be fooled bad management exist everywhere.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Jefferson1776 @RafeHollister F-35 suffered from Government indecision and constant fiddling by the government over specifications, costs, and projected use.  Poor Lockheed was forced to discontinue a successful plane the F-22, by folks like John McCain, in order to concentrate on the JSF F-35.  Now the F-35 has to have an F-22 accompanying it for protection, since they are such poor combat planes.  Now they are talking about reviving the F-22, Haha, Government! 


F-35=Government incompetence on aerial display.

TicTacs
TicTacs

The GOP won't work with anyone,  that's their problem and why they continue to fail.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I agree in principle, that a massive US economy's performance is determined by lots of competing factors, and that the person inhabiting the White House is but one of them. And that the President's role is often overstated.

As for how the red and blue states perform, that's as fair a comparison to make as the aforementioned Presidential one. However I'll just add that this is a republic wherein those states who can best exploit the advantages provided to them by a legislative process that's distorted to favor smaller population states, seem destined to post better growth numbers than those who don't.

(And no, I've no handy-dandy stats to chart how that works; just noting that it seems to me we allow states to play race-to-the-bottom on things like wages, workers' rights, etc. a lot of the time, and that likely plays a role in the economic growth claims these states can make.)

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex "distorted to favor smaller population states"

There's some of that: The top 10 states from 1990-2016 include ND, MT and ID. Then again, the bottom 10 includes CT, RI and ME. There are also big states in each group: TX and FL in the top 10, NY and PA in the bottom.

Just FYI.

khcdec
khcdec

the republicants would have performed worse.....had they been more receptive to progressive ideas the economy probably would have done better.  let's face it with the way the world is now 4-5% growth is likely not realistic.   and we know trickle down is a false  promise.  only thing repubs are right on is debt. so let's look at entitlements (especially millionaires), bloated defense spending, and rid the tax code of all the crony capitalism.  most tax loopholes should be sunsetted and cost/benefits stated/estimated before granted.  cut out pork in spending bills.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex @khckhc Not on a sustained (and inflation-adjusted) basis. But 3-3.5%, which we used to have and pretty much don't anymore, ought to be attainable. There's no good reason for sub-3% growth to be the new normal.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex @khckhc

no good reason for sub-3% growth to be the new normal.

This much I do know--our population grows at around a percent per year.

And I'm not sure it's a given that the economic growth of western nations has to triple that of population for those nations to continue to sustain themselves.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex Depends on what you mean by "sustain." If you mean "avoid revolution," then yes, 2% is probably fine. But if we're talking about the notion that each generation of Americans is better off than its parents, then 2% probably won't cut it.

Remember, 2% growth means doubling the size of the economy every 36 years; 3% does it every 24 years.

*In all this, we're talking about inflation-adjusted numbers.

MarkVV
MarkVV

These wannabe historical economic comparisons vs. political circumstances are a silly game both side indulge in when it suits them, ignoring that the world conditions are never the same. In this case, for instance, how has the depth of the 2008 depression been factored in?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara Seriously, though, you think the only thing that matters is which party holds the presidency? That congressional control, state-government control, timing of business cycles all pale in comparison?


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara And finally, you do realize, don't you, that the analysis to which you've linked was done by an economist who worked for Clinton, Gore and Kerry and advocated for "cash for clunkers"?

Starik
Starik

@Milhouse It's hard to immigrate illegally, so those that make it are better workers. Many of the 15 million you speak of are employed only part time, still get money, and work when they want to: drug selling, carjacking, burglary, armed robbery

Caius
Caius

As Speaker Ryan graciously informed Candidate Trump last month, the House, and Congress as a whole, has more authority on domestic policy that the White House. See Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.


We tend to blame the President on everything from spending to the fish not biting.  And at the same time we continue to send our members of congress to office for decades.  Only in America!




RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Since we are in a world economy moreso today, and most of the world is struggling, wouldn't that affect the US jobless rate?

Most Blue states are old manufacturing states. US manufacturing has taken a hit based on world trade and much of the remaining manufacturing in the US has spread out across the nation esp toward the south (car plants for instance). That could be due to lower labor and cost of living costs. Southern states are red....in more ways than one!


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar "Most Blue states are old manufacturing states."

You might be surprised to learn that, for these purposes and based on state-level elections, MI and OH are considered "red" while other Rust Belt states such as PA, IN and WI are "light red." And the red/light red states perform better in spite of that.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar Also, some upper-half states that you might consider red but aren't for these purposes: GA, OK, TN (purple). NC is blue.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar NC is blue? Then why are they bat shi! crazy against president Obama, gays, transgender,etc.??? NC hasn't been blue for years, except the Asheville area.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

All politics is local. 

GOP realism supplants "dim" idealism every time.

Idealism dies on the vine. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

"Since 1961 … our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what's the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 (million)."


- Bill Clinton


Republicans

Richard Nixon: Increase of 7.1 million jobs
Gerald Ford: Increase of 1.3 million jobs
Ronald Reagan: Increase of 14.7 million jobs
George H.W. Bush: Increase of 1.5 million jobs
George W. Bush: Decline of 646,000 jobs

Total: Increase of 23.9 million jobs under Republican presidents


Democrats

John F. Kennedy: Increase of 2.7 million jobs
Lyndon B. Johnson: Increase of 9.5 million jobs
Jimmy Carter: Increase of 9.0 million jobs
Bill Clinton: Increase of 20.8 million jobs
Barack Obama: Increase of 332,000 jobs


Total: Increase of 42.3 million jobs.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Thanks for putting to rest the idiotic claims that Obsama's recovery is stronger than Our President Reagan's.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Nixon: inherited a recession from LBJ

Reagan: inherited a recession from Carter

W. Bush: inherited a recession from Clinton

-

JFK: inherited a recovery from Eisenhower

Clinton: inherited a recovery from H.W. Bush


Other than Obama, the timing of business cycles has worked out in Dems' favor many times. That makes those numbers look a lot better.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Not to mention one of the factors I mentioned in the column, which is control of Congress.

Other than W. Bush, those Republican presidents worked with Dem-led Congresses 85 percent of the time. The other 15 percent was the Senate during Reagan's first six years.

Clinton had a Rep-led Congress 75 percent of the time. Since job creation resumed under Obama, Reps have had control of Congress about 60 percent of the time.

So, did D-led Congresses impede the R presidents? Did R-led Congresses hasten job growth under D presidents?

It's far from being as cut and dried as you folks want to believe.

Starik
Starik

@khckhc @Lil_Barry_Bailout You should be in favor of amnesty for illegal aliens, Barry. Did you vote for Reagan?  Were you old enough to vote for Reagan?  I don't think you'd vote for Reagan today. Too liberal.