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Rethinking the 'Strong Jobs Recovery' Scenario

Job creation is crucial to any economic expansion. It directly affects consumer spending, and it's one of two key factors determining the health of real estate (the other being interest rates). One cannot overstate the importance of job creation to the economy.

Lately, the White House and Treasury Secretary John Snow have been trumpeting the fact that the economy has created 4.4 million new jobs since May 2003.

Inquiring minds want to know: How legit is that number? How was it derived? How does this job-creation data compare to prior cyclical recoveries?

Let's zoom in on the actual employment numbers and see what's there:

First question: How did the White House come up with that 4.4 million new-jobs number? Is it accurate?

The answer is simple math: Measured trough to peak, there were actually almost 4.5 million new jobs created. In May 2003, there were 129,827,000 people employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of November 2005, there were 134,289,000. That reflects 4,462,000 new jobs. So the "over 4.4 million jobs created" statement is numerically accurate.

  • So if that number is mathematically accurate, what's the problem?
  • As those of us who work on Wall Street know, you typically don't get to pick your time periods when measuring performance. You especially don't get to base it on trough-to-peak numbers. In most any series, there are more natural time periods, e.g., year to date, one, three and five years.

    As opposed to cherry-picking the most favorable-looking time periods, job creation historically has been measured from the end of the recession, which the National Bureau of Economic Research puts at March 2001. Another commonly used period is from the start of the president's term (Jan. 20, 2001).

    When we plug those time frames into the BLS data, we derive a significantly less rosy picture: From the beginning of the recession to last month, about 1.8 million jobs were created. Measured from the end of the recession, we see 3.4 million new jobs. None of these measures take into account the 2.6 million jobs lost from 2001 to 2003.

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