Wednesday, December 14, 2016

JOBS | Two Job Numbers for Trump to Beat (Updated Jan. 6, 2017)

Trump visits Obama at the White House. 
It is understood among the cognoscenti that the Democrats managed the economy better for most Americans than the Republicans in the new millennium.

The problem for the Democrats in the 2016 election was voters who switched parties between 2012 and 2016. They were predominantly non-college-educated, from the least-well-educated states.

They picked up on the plain-language appeals and promises of candidate Donald Trump. The Democratic arguments were pitched to their college-educated base.

Perhaps the Democratic appeal to voters should have been based on a smaller number of performance indicators. President-elect Trump has promised to increase jobs. Two broad indicators–as opposed to anecdotal evidence from individual companies–might suffice to measure the success of his administration.

We can even use the BLS November job numbers [Jan. 6, 2017: see below for update, which changes little] for clear and independent benchmarks against which the economic performance of our presidents can properly be measured. The final report on the Obama Administration will be issued on January 6, subject to revision, but the December numbers, based on November reporting (and prior months for their seasonal adjustment), are not likely to change much from November.

Two Key Indicators

Here are the two key long-term numbers against which Obama's economy can be compared with the Bush economy of eight years ago and the Trump economy of two and four years hence:

1. Unemployment =  a rate of 4.6 percent in November

This is arrived at by dividing the number of unemployed, 7.4 million in November, of whom 1.9 million have been unemployed for 27 or more weeks, by the labor force (employed + unemployed), 159.5 million.

This compares with 7.3 percent in December 2004, the last month of the George W. Bush administration. (The numbers are easily found by punching into Google the two words  Unemployment and FRED. This will take you to the super-user-friendly St. Louis Fed database, God bless them.) That is a reduction of 2.7 percentage points. This compares with an increase of 3.4 percentage points during the Bush 43 administration and a decrease of 3.5 percent during the Clinton administration:
  • Clinton vs. Bush 43: Better by 3.5 - (-3.4) = 6.9 percentage points.
  • Obama vs. Bush 43: Better by 2.7 - (-3.4) = 6.1 percentage points.
2. Employment-population ratio = a rate of 59.7 percent in November.

This number is arrived at by dividing the number of civilian noninstitutional employed, 152.1 million, by the civilian noninstitutional population, 254.5 million.

This number is solid for long-term comparisons because it is not affected by answers to the unemployment survey. The labor force participation rate is dependent on the unemployment rate in the definition of the labor force. The employment-population ratio is not affected by any long-term change in the definitions of the unemployed or in the conduct of the monthly surveys of the labor force.

In December 1992 when President Clinton came to office, the employment-population rate had been falling and was at 61.4 percent. It rose during his administration to 64.3 percent, an increase of 2.9 percentage points. Under G. W. Bush, the rate fell by 3.3 percentage points to 61.0 percent. Under Obama the rate fell further to 59.7 percent, a drop of 1.3 percentage points. So here is the record of this measure:
  • Clinton vs. Bush 43: Better by [2.9 - (-3.3)] = 6.2 percentage points.
  • Obama vs. Bush 43: Better by [3.3 - 1.3] = 2.0 percentage points.
On both measures, the last two Democratic administrations outperformed the Bush 43 administration, by a lot. Too bad this message didn't get through.

Update, Jan. 6, 2017

Here are the final numbers for November, which arguably should still be the baseline, seasonally adjusted, if the incoming President wants to take credit for changed expectations in December (or his opponents do). Here also are the December seasonally adjusted numbers. Either way, from here on, it is President Donald Trump's baby–TrumpCare, TrumpEconomy and all.