In address to the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton said that since 1960, 42 million private sector jobs had been created in the 24 years when a Democrat was president, and only 24 million during the 28 years when a Republican was president. A NY Times story called it a "startling truth" and "one of the most surprising statistics of the night," but concluded that "it appears to be true; it is backed up by a recent Bloomberg news analysis and federal labor statistics." It shouldn't really be surprising--the statistics come out every month and no one seems to question their accuracy, and the historical figures are available in convenient form from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even without looking up the numbers, anyone with a general knowledge of recent history knows that the economy did relatively well in the 1960s and 1990s.
That led me to wonder about the performance of individual presidents. I give the figures in terms of average percentage growth per year while they were in office.
GHW Bush 0.4
GW Bush -0.1
Now that's what I call a surprising statistic--Jimmy Carter had the second highest rate of private sector job growth, easily beating Clinton and Reagan. Unfortunately for him, the growth came in the first three years of his term--it came to a stop just as the election campaign was getting underway. Another surprise is the low ranking of Eisenhower--people usually think of the 1950s as a period of strong economic growth. Obama doesn't come out very well, although he does finish ahead of George W Bush. Of course, the different presidents came to office in very different conditions, so the more important question is how well they did given the circumstances they faced. I'll talk about that in my next post.