Last month I posted two graphs comparing changes in public and private sector payrolls during the Bush and Obama presidencies. Several readers asked if I could add Presidents Reagan and Clinton (I’ve also added the single term of President George H.W. Bush).
Important: There are many differences between these periods. Overall employment was smaller in the ’80s, so a better comparison might be to look at the percentage change, but this gives an overall view 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). President George H.W. Bush only served one term, and President Obama has just started his second 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 (blue) took office during the financial crisis and great recession. There was also a significant recession in the early ’80s right after Mr. Reagan (yellow) took office.
There was a recession towards the end of President G.H.W. Bush (purple) term, and Mr Clinton (light blue) served for eight years without a recession.
The employment recovery during Mr. G.W. Bush’s first term was very sluggish, and private employment was down 946,000 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 665,000 private sector jobs lost during Mr. Bush’s two terms.
Private sector employment increased slightly under President G.H.W. Bush, with 1,490,000 private sector jobs added.
Private sector employment increased by 20,864,000 under President Clinton and 14,688,000 under President Reagan.
There were only 1,933,000 more private sector jobs at the end of Mr. Obama’s first term. A few months into Mr. Obama’s second term, there are now 2,582,000 more private sector jobs than when he took office.
A big difference between the presidencies has been public sector employment. Note the bumps in public sector employment due to the decennial Census in 1990, 2000, and 2010.
The public sector grew 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 1,748,000 jobs).
However the public sector has declined significantly since Mr. Obama took office (down 739,000 jobs). These job losses have mostly been at the state and local level, but they are still a significant drag on overall employment.
Looking forward, I expect the economy to continue to expand for the next few years, so I don’t expect a sharp decline in employment as happened at the end of Mr. Bush’s 2nd term (In 2005 and 2006 I was warning of a coming recession due to the bursting of the housing bubble).
A big question is when the public sector layoffs will end. It appears the cutbacks are mostly over at the state and local levels, but there are ongoing cutbacks at the Federal level.