It’s sometimes said that presidents don’t control the economic weather but rather it controls them. We have reached the moment, however, when magical powers are going to be attributed to the presidency, and the current incumbent, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, will be charged with incompetence in using them. One manifestation of this thinking is the Romney campaign’s recent claim that women have suffered more than 90 percent of the jobs lost since Obama became president, a blatant attempt to undermine his lead among women voters. This claim involves two distortions; and most of the mainstream media have caught what I view as the smaller one—namely, that the claim ignores the full history of the recession and the huge job losses borne by men when George Bush was president.
The larger distortion has generally gone unnoticed, indeed, it has been mostly accepted. According to it, some 740 thousand jobs have been lost on Obama’s watch. This claim is another expression of the Republican mantra about a “failed” presidency. And it involves some statistical crafting to fit the data to the argument, manipulating data in a way that we are likely to see a lot more of as the campaign proceeds, especially given the huge amounts of money available to hire “researchers” to come up with “facts.”
The Romney campaign arrives at the estimate by attributing to Obama all of the job losses since February 1, 2009, even though he had barely taken office at that point and there was not enough time for any of the new administration’s policies to have an impact. To understand how much timing matters in this case, recall that Obama entered the White House when the labor market was already in a swoon, and the number of jobs lost that February was more than 700 thousand, on a par with the losses for the final months of Bush’s second term. If we tally the jobs record of the current administration from March 1 instead of February 1, then the jobs deficit under Obama shrinks dramatically to 16,000 and, with any luck, will be erased in . . .