No, We’re Not Better Off

Just in time for the Democratic National Convention, the Obama campaign is claiming that, why, yes we are better off now than we were four years ago, thank you very much.

For starters, they’re touting Vice President Joe Biden’s bumper sticker slogan “Osama bin Laden is dead, and GM is alive.”

Actually, bin Laden and top al Qaeda members killed in President Obama’s wanton drone attacks should arguably be alive and getting waterboarded in Gitmo for all the intelligence we can wring out of them. General Motors should have gone through bankruptcy proceedings, and if it couldn’t shake off its bloated union benefits packages and improve its efficiency, died.

But Democrats are crowing about the general economic picture. They seem to be claiming that, even if job growth and GDP aren’t picking up quite as much as we would like, at least they’re better now than they were near the start of the recession.

No, they’re not. They’re not even as good as they were when Obama took office.

Consider the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’s set of post-WWII recession and recovery employment and GDP data.

These data show that the percent change in U.S. employment in July 2008—four years prior to the most currently available data—was one percent. In July 2012 it was three percent.

Using as a baseline the first month of Obama’s presidency, percent change in employment was still slightly better in January 2009 than it is now.

When Obama brags that he added 4.5 million jobs to the economy, the proper response should be, “Yes—if you count only the jobs added since January 2010 and not the ones lost in the prior 12 months. There are still 400,000 fewer people working today than there were in January 2009.”

A better way to analyze the data is to ask whether we’re better off now than we were at the equivalent point in time following other recessions.

The answer is no, we’re not.

July 2012 marked 55 months since the start of the December 2007 recession. The monthly percent change in employment for all other 10 postwar recessions at 55 months out ranged from one percent to 12 percent, with an average of seven percent. Again, in July 2012 monthly change in employment was – three percent.

In other words, every single other post-war recession saw an actual recovery that culminated in a positive monthly change in employment by four-and-half years out—and usually much sooner—not a fake recovery that left the economy below where it was at the start of the recession. The Obama recovery stands historically alone in its decrepitude.

Since Obama’s presidency started 13 months into the 2007 recession, let’s look at percent change in employment 55 months after each recession’s start minus change in employment 13 months into the recession. Has the economy improved as much in the 42 months of Obama’s presidency as it did during the equivalent 42-months for other recessions?

No, it hasn’t.

The difference in monthly employment from 13 to 55 months after the start of the other 10 recessions ranged from three percent to 16 percent, with an average of nine percent. Under Obama, the difference from 13 to 55 months was less than zero percent. Obama actually drove down monthly employment since taking office.

How about quarterly percent change in GDP? We’re 18 quarters out from December 2007. Is GDP on par with where it was 18 quarters out from other recessions?

No, it isn’t.

Percent change in GDP for the other 10 postwar recessions ranged from nine percent to 27 percent, with an average of 16 percent. Percent change in GDP is currently at two percent.

Poverty is up. Food stamps use is at a record high. Unemployment is stuck where it was it was in January 2009, and median income is down. Inflation is up since 2009, and gas prices have doubled since Obama took office.

By what respectable metric can Obama possibly claim that we’re better off now than we were four years ago? An increase in our social networking prowess? (Oops. Bad example.)

The only sense in which we’re better off now than we were in 2008 is that we may have only four more months instead of four more years to endure from this miserable president.