The United States economy has created many jobs since Donald J. Trump became president. How does the record compare with the previous administration and others?
The nearby chart holds plots of cumulative nonfarm jobs created over two periods of 37 months each. One line starts with February 2017, the first full month of the Trump administration. It ends with February 2020, the last month not affected by the response to the pandemic.
The other line starts with January 2014, which covers the last 37 months of the previous president’s administration.
Question: Which line belongs to each president?
No matter which administration’s line is blue and which is grey, I think the conclusion we can make is that one president did a good job of maintaining the positive trend of his predecessor, and that’s a great accomplishment.
This data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the United States Department of Labor. The data series is CES0000000001, described as “All employees, thousands, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted.” It is produced each month as part of the Current Employment Statistics survey. It is the most commonly cited employment series that is released monthly, with this number leading the news reports on the first Friday of each month. Here is the data presented in a table:
Here’s another look at the same data. This chart uses the same BLS data series, with the chart created by FRED, a service of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. I’ve added notations marking the start and end of each 37 month period. The heavy blue line shows the number of jobs, with the scale on the left. Once the economy started recovering from the Great Recession, the line is nearly straight. Without a scale or legend, it is not easy to see where a new administration took office in January 2017.
The light red line plots the percent change in jobs from the same month of the previous year. Its scale is on the right. When its value is positive, the economy is adding jobs, as has been the case since sometime in 2010. Since 2015 this line has been on a gentle downward trend, meaning that while the economy is adding jobs, it is doing so at a slower rate. In 2019 the trend was mostly flat.
The citation for this chart is U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, All Employees, Total Nonfarm [PAYEMS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PAYEMS, April 28, 2020, with author’s annotations.
Some ask why the first chart doesn’t being with the first 37 months of the Obama administration. It’s a reasonable question. The answer is the two periods of time are not very comparable, as Obama took office during a recession, while Trump benefited from an already-growing economy — as the second chart illustrates.
Another way to examine the economic record of presidents is to compare changes in metrics using a common time frame, namely, the time since each president’s administration started. The nearby chart does this, showing the percentage change in nonfarm jobs by month since the start of each administration. This chart is from my interactive visualization Presidential data explorer, which holds many additional economic series.