05 February 2017

Obama by the Numbers - Comparing America Under the Last Five Presidents

Obama was my kind of president. He was a wonk who guided his decisions by probabilities. He was compassionate and careful. He had a clear sense of how progress is made and promoted education, science and entrepreneurship for everyone and made a special effort to extend opportunities to women and minorities. 

He stepped into the Oval Office when the economy was in free fall. In the twelve months leading into his presidency, the American economy had destroyed 4.4 million jobs. Never had so many been put out of work so quickly. Those were not ideal circumstances. And yet things turned out well.

Here are some numbers comparing him to the four previous presidents.


Of the most recent five presidents, only Reagan gave fewer press conferences per year.

After his first two years, the House and Senate opposed his initiatives, no matter how reasonable. The fact that he gave so few press conferences could not have helped him to make his case to the American people. This seems to me like the biggest mistake of his presidency. 24-7 news channels were hungry for news of any kind and he could have done more to circumvent Congress by talking directly to the media, giving him an opportunity to shape public opinion. 

FDR gave an average of 73 press conferences per year - more than double what any of the most recent five did. I don't think it's a coincidence that he passed more defining legislation than any of them could have imagined.


Our American military are a precious resource and should be sparingly used.

Obama was determined to extract our service people from harm's way. Not only did his policies result in death rates for our military that were about one-third of what they were under the Bush presidents and one-fourth of what they were under Reagan, by his eighth and final year the fatalities had dropped to an unprecedented 19. By contrast, between 2004 - 2007, fatalities averaged roughly 1,900 and - as you can see - averaged 2,150 during Reagan's presidency. Under each of the last five presidents, we lost an average of at least one person a day but at least in the final year of his presidency, that number had dropped to closer to one per month.


The unemployment rate was high and rapidly rising when Obama took office. Nonetheless, it dropped even from that initial rate.

Under George W. Bush and George H. Bush, the unemployment rate rose 3.6 and 1.9 percentage points. Under Reagan, Clinton and Obama it fell. 

In Reagan's last month, the unemployment rate hit 5.4%. In Clinton's last month, it hit 4.2% and in Obama's last month it hit 4.8%.

This stat is tough on Obama. In his very first year in office, the Great Recession destroyed 5 million jobs. No year on record was that bad and in a normal, healthy year the economy creates about 2 million jobs so from the start he was battling against a 7 million job deficit, something that took a long time from which to recover. 

The average annual job creation rate over his 8 years puts him between the Bush presidents and Reagan and Clinton. However, in his second term the economy created 10 million jobs - just as it did in Reagan's second term. (In each of Clinton's two terms, the economy created 11 million jobs.)

This is the one bit of data which still isn't complete. It does not include the fourth and final quarter of his second term, so it will go up. Even so, this stat is good for Obama. Not only was the economy destroying jobs when he took office, but home and stock prices had been brought low. When the economy recovered, so did markets. Net worth soared under his presidency.

It's easy to dismiss this as being of concern for only the wealthy but here's a fact: if you plan to retire, you need for stock values to rise. It doesn't matter if your retirement is going to be funded by a pension fund or your 401(k) or your financially stable son-in-law, you are dependent on the creation of wealth to fund your retirement. 

On so many measures that matter - from the number of uninsured, the percentage unemployed, soldiers killed, and the net worth of American households - the country did wonderfully well under Obama. Not only did we have no scandals - personal or administrative - but the country prospered. If you voted for him, you showed good judgement. 

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