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By Request: Public and Private Sector Payroll Jobs During Presidential Terms


by Calculated Risk on 7/04/2021 11:40:00 AM

Note: I used to post this monthly, but I stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve received a number of requests lately to post this again, so here is another update of tracking employment during Presidential terms. We frequently use Presidential terms as time markers – we could use Speaker of the House, Fed Chair, or any other marker.

Important: There are many differences between these periods. Overall employment was smaller in the ’80s, however the participation rate was increasing in the ’80s (younger population and women joining the labor force), and the participation rate is generally declining now. But these graphs give an overview of employment changes.

The first graph shows the change in private sector payroll jobs from when each president took office until the end of their term(s). Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush and Trump only served one term.

Mr. G.W. Bush (red) took office following the bursting of the stock market bubble, and left during the bursting of the housing bubble. Mr. Obama (dark blue) took office during the financial crisis and great recession. There was also a significant recession in the early ’80s right after Mr. Reagan (dark red) took office.

There was a recession towards the end of President G.H.W. Bush (light purple) term, and Mr. Clinton (light blue) served for eight years without a recession. And there was a pandemic related recession in 2020.

Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph is for private employment only.

The employment recovery during Mr. G.W. Bush’s (red) first term was sluggish, and private employment was down 824,000 jobs at the end of his first term. At the end of Mr. Bush’s second term, private employment was collapsing, and there were net 387,000 private sector jobs lost during Mr. Bush’s two terms.

Private sector employment increased by 9,039,000 under President Carter (dashed green), by 14,714,000 under President Reagan (dark red), 1,511,000 under President G.H.W. Bush (light purple), 20,970,000 under President Clinton (light blue), and 11,828,000 under President Obama (dark dashed blue). During Trump’s term (Orange), the economy lost 2,135,000 private sector jobs.

In the first five months of President Biden’s term (Blue), the economy has added 2,750,000 private sector jobs, as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

A big difference between the presidencies has been public sector employment. Note: the bumps in public sector employment due to the decennial Census in 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2020.

The public sector grew during Mr. Carter’s term (up 1,304,000), during Mr. Reagan’s terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton’s terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush’s terms (up 1,744,000 jobs). However the public sector declined significantly while Mr. Obama was in office (down 271,000 jobs). During Trump’s term, the economy lost 741,000 public sector jobs.

In the first five months of President Biden’s term, the economy has added 273,000 public sector jobs (mostly education).

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