“Right now, I have the strongest record of growth in manufacturing jobs in modern history.”

— President Biden, in a tweetSeptember 10

Regular readers know that we are often suspicious when a president proclaims success in job creation. Presidential decisions and new laws can certainly have an impact on job creation – over time. But it’s hard to disentangle the importance of these factors from the broader economic forces beyond a president’s control.

That’s why it’s often misleading to measure job creation by presidential tenure – an artificial metric that’s popular with presidents and the public alike.

When we saw this tweet, we immediately thought “coronavirus”. The global pandemic that emerged in early 2020 destroyed millions of jobs, although some rehiring began almost immediately. Nearly 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost from February to April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but 233,000 were then recovered in May. By the time Biden took office in 2021, the number of manufacturing jobs in February was around 560,000 below the level a year earlier, meaning more than 800,000 had been recovered before Donald Trump does not leave office.

The United States finally returned to pre-pandemic manufacturing employment levels in June of this year. Biden would no doubt credit the passage of his coronavirus relief package in March 2021 as providing the necessary spark. But significant relief packages have also been passed under Trump, illustrating why it’s so difficult to credit a single president for job gains under his leadership. About 525,000 of the jobs restored came after Biden’s Covid relief bill passed, lower than the number recovered under Trump.

This graph of data from the BLS, via the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, puts the job gains in the manufacturing sector into context. It shows a fairly steady gain since June 2020, although the gains briefly started to falter in April 2021, indicating that Biden’s covid relief package could have helped restore some momentum.

Now, with that context in mind, let’s look at Biden’s tweet: “Right now, I have the strongest record of growth in manufacturing jobs in modern history.”

When we first saw the tweet, we assumed it was comparing 19-month periods of different presidents. Under Biden, about 630,000 manufacturing jobs were created, or 5.2%, from February 2020 to August 2021.

It’s a pretty good record, but it was surpassed by Richard M. Nixon. From February 1972 to August 1973, more than 1.3 million manufacturing jobs were added, or 7.6%. Considering Biden was a senator in 1972, we would have thought that was still “modern history.”

But it turns out that Biden wasn’t making that comparison at all. Instead, he was talking about the average monthly job creations across all presidencies. Note this chart from the White House that explains the point in more detail.

It’s a strange way to do it. It mixes up the records of presidents who have served one or two terms — or less. Biden, of course, hasn’t served two years yet, which means he has far fewer months to split into the total. A lot could change over the next two-plus years — which is apparently why the tweet includes the phrase “right now.”

Interestingly, Trump played the same game. In his 2020 State of the Union Address, just before the coronavirus collapsed the economy, he claimed, “Incredibly, the average unemployment rate under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country. Trump was also comparing his unfinished term to the four- or eight-year average of other presidents.

His line brought bad karma. Within weeks, the economy collapsed and unemployment soared, making his request incorrect.

We also find it ironic that the White House chart portrays Barack Obama as a manufacturing job loser. Under the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president, White House spokespeople insisted that manufacturing job growth should be measured from the low point reached during the Great Recession. in February 2010 – not from when Obama took office a year earlier. Obama’s flacks claimed he shouldn’t be labeled with past job losses because he inherited a plummeting economy. Moving the starting point to February 2010 turns Obama’s lackluster jobs record into a big gain of 900,000 manufacturing jobs.

Apparently, this rotation has been forgotten.

(A president is sworn in on January 20. But for the current employment statistics survey, employers report data to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month – before the new president So February , not January, would actually cover the first pay period after the new president takes office. Depending on whether you start counting in January or February, that translates to a variation of 200 000 manufacturing jobs in Obama’s record. Such a difference in two – the presidency because of a change of a month just shows how insane and arbitrary this game can be.)

The White House declined to provide an official comment.

Again: the number of jobs in the United States goes up and down for reasons that sometimes have little to do with the politics of a president. While Obama was unlucky enough to start his presidency during an economic slump, Trump and Biden were lucky enough to start their presidencies during economic booms. But as Trump discovered, that luck doesn’t last forever.

In that case, comparing the monthly manufacturing jobs records of presidents who served four and eight years with Biden’s 19 months is as silly as Trump’s unemployment claim during his State of the Union address. in 2020. The tweet toned down the claim somewhat with the phrase “right now” — acknowledging that that could change — but it’s still a misleading metric even if the numbers add up.

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