Even President Barack Obama acknowledges that the economy is creating jobs too slowly under his stewardship. Yet Obama can now boast that more jobs have been created during his first term than during that of his predecessor George W. Bush.
When Bush began his first term in January 2001, total nonfarm employment was 132.47 million. When his second term began four years later, it was 132.45 million, or effectively zero job growth.
Obama's first term isn't technically over yet, but so far, employment has risen from 133.56 million in January 2009 to 134.02 million in the latest report, for December 2012. That's a net gain of about 460,000 or 0.3 percent. As paltry as that is, it beats Bush's first-term performance.
Purists might argue that because of the one-month lag in the official job numbers, it would be more appropriate to judge each president's first term from the February figures rather than those for January. But that gives Obama an even bigger edge. From February 2001 to February 2005, the economy created 164,000 jobs, for a 0.1 percent gain during Bush's first term. From February 2009 through December 2012, the economy created nearly 1.2 million jobs, a 0.9 percent improvement.
Each man can point to extenuating circumstances that harmed the economy during his first term. For Bush, there was a modest recession that ran from March 2001 through November 2001, punctuated by the 9-11 terror attacks in September of that year. The dot-com meltdown, one cause of the recession, took years to subside.
Obama took office during the worst financial crisis since the Depression, as companies were laying off workers by the thousands. His first priority was stabilizing the banking system to prevent another depression. During Obama's first month in office, employers shed 800,000 jobs.
To some extent, Obama has enjoyed luckier timing that Bush. The recession Obama inherited was more than a year old when he took office, and it officially ended five months later. It took considerably longer for the job market to bottom out. Employment hit its low point in February 2010. But since then, about 4.8 million net new jobs have been created, an average of about 140,000 per month. That's weak, but at least it has been fairly consistent.
Job growth has now ticked up to about 150,000 per month. If that pace continues, the economy will end up creating more jobs under Obama in four-and-a-half years than it created under Bush in a full 8 years.
Had Bush left office one year earlier, in January 2008, his performance would have looked quite good, with 5.6 million jobs created during his tenure. But the economy tanked in 2008, hemorrhaging 4.5 million jobs during Bush's last year in office. That left total job growth during his eight years of just 1.1 million jobs—a figure the Obama ought to eclipse by this summer, if the economy keeps growing.
If the economy adds an average of 150,000 jobs per month during Obama's entire second term, which is plausible, then it will have created about 7.7 million jobs by the time Obama leaves office. Many presidents have done better, but not the one Obama replaced.
Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.