A few days ago, a facebook friend of mine posted the following fact as part of his status: "2008 Unemployment = 7.3%; Today = 9.2%. Increase of 26%."
This kind of thing makes me a little crazy. Because while this "fact" might be a real, honest-to-goodness fact, it doesn't begin to tell the whole picture. In fact, it intentionally tells only part of the story. Do we really not remember where we were when Obama took office?
So being the crazy kind of person that I am, immediately went to Google to get some additional "facts". I only needed one site: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where they have a lovely little table of the unemployment rates going back to Jan 2001. Perfect. Now looking at the straight numbers, you would see a chart like this:
I threw in a little line there so that you could see where Obama took office. But from this graph, you can only get a general sense that things were already going bad when Obama's presidency began. Let me show you the numbers in a slightly different way so that you can truly remember the cliff we were flying off of in January 2009.
OK, so I might need to explain this one just a bit. What it shows is how much higher the unemployment rate is in any given month compared to the same month a year earlier. So, for example, when President Obama took office in January 2009, unemployment was 7.8%. A year earlier in January 2008, unemployment had been only 5%. So in the year before he took office, the unemployment rate had increased 56%. In fact, in the months leading up to the beginning of the Obama presidency, unemployment numbers weren't just going up, they were going up faster and faster each month. Finally, in May 2009, five months after Obama took office and four months after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the numbers finally started slowing. They were still going up, absolutely, but for the first time, the rate of increase was dropping. Over the months following, the overall unemployment numbers continued to climb, but each month they climbed more slowly that the previous month until finally, in August 2010, we saw a year over year drop in the rate of unemployment.
Now, do these numbers tell only part of the story? Sure they do. Did Obama single handedly rescue the economy from certain devastation? Of course not. But this is definitely a fuller picture than those who want to tell you a tale of how Obama has driven the economy off a cliff. Take a look at that picture folks and try and remember back. Back then we were talking about a second great depression. Today, we're wondering why the recovery isn't happening as fast as we'd like it to.