Obama’s policies helped lift the economy out of a frightening slump and set it on a path to steady, if unspectacular, growth. In fact, I’d call this his biggest achievement. The scale of the financial panic of 2008 and the extent of the job losses that occurred in the first months of 2009 should never be forgotten. By “a number of macroeconomic measures—including household wealth, employment and trade flows—the first year of the Great Recession in the United States saw declines that were as large or larger than at the outset of the Great Depression in 1929-30,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recounted in an exit memo that he posted online this week.
The Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Hank Paulson, President Bush’s Treasury Secretary, all played key roles in quelling the panic. But the Obama Administration finished the job, continuing the crisis measures that had been introduced, pushing through the rescue of the auto industry that Paulson had set in motion, and carrying out a set of stress tests that restored confidence in the big banks. The new Administration also boosted the over-all level of demand in the economy with an eight-hundred-and-forty-billion-dollar stimulus package, which featured temporary tax cuts and more federal spending. By the second half of 2009, the gross domestic product was growing again. By October, 2009, the unemployment rate had peaked, at ten per cent. If other policy decisions had been made, things could have been very different, and much worse.
At seven and a half years long, the Obama recovery now is one of the longest on record. In terms of annual G.D.P. growth, the rate of expansion has been relatively modest: since 2010, G.D.P. has risen by about 2.1 per cent a year. During the Bill Clinton recovery (1992-2000), G.D.P. growth averaged 3.8 per cent a year, and during the George W. Bush recovery (2002-2007), it averaged 2.7 per cent.
Citing figures like these, Obama’s critics claim that this has been the weakest recovery since the Second World War. But that ignores at least a couple of important measures. As the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have pointed out, “Postwar business cycles are not the right comparator for the severe crises that have swept advanced economies in recent years.” The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 wasn’t a normal recession. It was an old-fashioned financial bust, and it always takes economies a long time to recover fully from those—if they ever do. Japan took two decades to rebound from a financial bust in the early nineteen-nineties. Much of Europe still hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession.
In addition, if you look at employment rather than at G.D.P., the Obama recovery looks much stronger. Since the start of 2010, the U.S. economy has created about 2.4 million jobs per year. During the Bush recovery of 2002-2007, annual job growth was just 1.2 million. In terms of jobs, the Obama recovery compares with the Clinton recovery, of the nineteen-nineties, when approximately 2.8 million jobs were created each year.
The difference between Obama’s record and Bush’s is even starker if you focus on entire Presidential terms, including periods of recession as well as periods of recovery. Between January, 2001, and December, 2008, 2.1 million jobs were created. Between January, 2009, and December, 2016, 11.3 million jobs were created. The economy created nearly five and a half times more jobs under Obama than it did under Bush.http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/obamas-economic-record-an-assessment