An enduring impediment to President Obama’s economic recovery has been the erosion of public-sector employment, driven largely by layoffs at the state and local levels. As we’ve noted before, this wasn’t a problem recent Republican presidents faced. Total government expenditures (federal, state and local) grew under Reagan and the two Bush presidents much more than it has under President Obama.
But how is that reflected in Obama’s economic record? The economics blog Calculated Risk points us toward private- and public-sector payrolls under both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, both of whom faced tough economies early in their first terms (though of wildly varied levels of severity).
We’ve adjusted these to reflect percent change, to account for population growth. The basic story is that Obama’s private-sector recovery has outpaced Bush’s, but Obama’s been hobbled by government cutbacks that Bush never faced. Quite the opposite, in fact.
To date, Obama’s overseen a cumulative loss 274,000 private-sector jobs. If the recent job-growth trend continues, Obama will enter positive territory in the next month or two. By this point in his first term, Bush had overseen over 2.7 million private-sector jobs losses. By the end of his first term, that had rebounded to a cumulative loss of 913,000 jobs.
The public-sector story is much, much different.
To date, government cutbacks have led to 590,000 public-sector jobs losses under Obama. That falloff is finally slowing, but it hasn’t reversed, and locked in austerity measures suggest it won’t any time soon. At this point in Bush’s first term, by contrast, he’d benefited from 716,000 public-sector jobs gains. And over his first full term he benefited from 900,000 gains, almost fully offsetting private-sector jobs losses.
That huge difference is reflected to some extent in today’s high unemployment rate, though Obama came into office with a high unemployment rate baked into the cake. But it gives the lie to the notion — perpetuated by Republicans — that Obama’s overseen a massive expansion of government. That was their guy.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.