Given the state of the economic news from the past year, the president couldn’t have asked for a better jobs report than the one he received Friday. Coming just four days before an extremely tight election, the jobs report provided the president with the ammunition to support his claim that the economy continues to improve.
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Employment Situation Report (as it does on the first Friday of every month), which showed that the U.S. economy added 184,000 private-sector jobs in October. This marks the 32nd consecutive month of private-sector job growth during which time the economy added nearly 5 million new private-sector jobs. This also means that with two more months like October, 2012 will go down as the third best job creation year since 2000 (2011 was the second best).
In short, the data provide more evidence that the economy is improving. But it could have been, and should have been even better if Congress had done more.
Perhaps the most striking statistic from this economic recovery is not the increase in the number of unemployed, or the time it has taken to recover. Those are both to be expected given the severity of the financial crisis we were in during 2008. No, the most striking statistic is how government employment has shrunk during President Obama’s first term.
Consider the post-war U.S. economy. The change in government employment during presidential terms, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, has been:
• Truman: +1.1 million jobs
• Eisenhower: +1.7 million jobs
• Kennedy/Johnson: +3.5 million jobs
• Nixon/Ford: +2.9 million jobs
• Carter: +1.3 million jobs
• Reagan: +1.4 million jobs
• Bush I: +1.1 million jobs
• Clinton: +1.9 million jobs
• Bush II: +1.7 million jobs
• Obama: -544,000 jobs
Yes, the only president since World War II who has actually shrunk the size of government (as measured by the number of government jobs) is Barack Obama.
Historically, during recessions Congress approves a set of stimulus proposals — proposals that significantly increase government employment including jobs for teachers and firefighters. Yet, during what was undoubtedly the darkest economic days this country has seen since the Great Depression, when the economy needed such a boost, Congress actually decreased government employment. As a result, the level of unemployment remains higher than it should have. Afterall, you cannot fight unemployment by laying off more teachers.
This is why economists have been calling on Congress to pass legislation like the American Jobs Act which private firms estimate would have created an additional 1-2 million jobs thus further cementing our path to recovery. This is why Congress should have done more to boost aid to states who were forced to enact large tax increases or spending cuts to balance their budgets. This is why this Congress has failed us.
MICKEY HEPNER is the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Oklahoma. Hepner serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for The Oklahoma Academy.