Obama Claimed That Most Job Loss Came Before His Policies; Politifact Claims He’s Right

When President Obama appeared on The Daily Show Wednesday night, he made a claim that may have caused some viewers to take pause. “Most of the jobs that we lost were lost before the economic policies we put in place had any effect,” Obama told Jon Stewart.

But Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking operation, has taken a closer look at the President’s statement—and found that it holds up.

Here’s a timeline of our nation’s climbing unemployment, according to Obama: “We lost 4 million jobs before I was sworn in; 750,000 the month I was sworn in; 600,000, the month after that; 600,000 the month after that.” Politifact examined those numbers and discovered that BLS data corroborates Obama’s assertion:

Looking at BLS data on seasonally adjusted non-farm employment from December 2007, when the recession officially began, to January 2009, the month before the stimulus was enacted (a 25-month period), the jobs number declined by 4.4 million. So Obama’s first number was right, although he could have been clearer about the time frame.

When he refers to his economic policies, we presume he is referring to his main economic stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It passed in February 2009, but it took several months before the impact of its spending was felt in the economy.

Job loss didn’t stop, but Obama is right that it slowed down. In the 19 months from February 2009 through September 2010, the month of the most recent preliminary data, the overall job decline in the private and public sectors was 2.6 million. And the number of jobs lost per month has declined from around 700,000 a month at the beginning of the administration to months in which there were small net gains. Since May, however, the losses — albeit smaller ones — have returned, giving Republicans fresh ammunition. For example, payroll employment dropped 57,000 between July and August 2010.

It’s debatable how well Obama’s economic policies have worked to pull our country out of the recession. What isn’t debatable, though, is the fact that the President inherited a real mess, one that spiraled before his policies could have an effect either way.

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