Barack H. Obama left office as the first Democratic president to preside over a net loss of domestic manufacturing jobs since the U.S. government started compiling records in the late 1930’s. There were 206,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in January 2017 (12,355,000) than in January 2009 (12,561,000) when Obama entered the White House, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records stretching back to 1939.
Since 2010 Obama’s administration has claimed the opposite: His economic policies created net new manufacturing jobs. Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated the claim in late November 2016 after Donald Trump tweeted approval of Carrier’s decision to maintain jobs at its Indianapolis plant, rather than export them to Mexico. “I know that the President-elect has indicated that he deserves credit for that announcement,” Earnest said.
And I guess what I would observe is that if he is successful in doing that 804 more times, then he will meet the record of manufacturing jobs that were created in the United States while President Obama was in office. There were 805,000 manufacturing jobs that weren’t just protected or saved, but actually created while President Obama was in office.
The Obama administration came up with the 805,000 figure by calculating manufacturing gains from February 2010, not from the month (January 2009) Obama took office. February 2010 was manufacturing’s trough following the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009). Earnest’s declaration wasn’t the first time the Obama administration used February 2010 as the baseline for measuring manufacturing jobs. In August 2016, two administration officials stated,
It is a resurgent industry, emerging from the near-collapse of the Great Recession, where more than 800,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since February 2010—the first sustained job growth in the sector since the 1990s.
Obama’s October 2014 proclamation for National Manufacturing Day used the same misleading baseline. He declared, “America’s manufacturers have created jobs at the fastest pace in decades, adding more than 700,000 new jobs since February 2010.” Obama also promised during the 2012 presidential campaign to create one million new manufacturing jobs. Yet BLS records show only 376,000 manufacturing jobs were created during his second four-year term in office.
An honest approach would have conceded serious problems with domestic manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing employment peaked at 19.5 million workers (June 1979) under Democrat Jimmy Carter. It had fallen to 12,561,000 when Obama took office, with losses recorded under Republicans Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. (Democrat Bill Clinton saw a modest 313,000 gain.) Yes, manufacturing is more efficient today than early in the postwar era, with advanced technology requiring fewer workers to produce more goods. Yet most establishment analysts claim job losses are part of a natural process—an economic determinism rarely found outside of Karl Marx’s published works. Trump, on the other hand, has advanced the ideas that economic outcomes are not predestined, and domestic manufacturing matters to U.S. national-security interests. Six months into Trump’s administration, manufacturing jobs have increased by 126,000, though Trump faces many challenges to continue this growth. The last Republican to preside over a gain in manufacturing jobs was Richard Nixon.
Democratic presidents, by contrast, have held office in periods of manufacturing jobs growth. In addition to Clinton, FDR, Harry S. Truman, JFK, LBJ, and even Carter presided over job gains in the sector. One Obama legacy: he will be remembered for ending this Democratic winning streak. Under Obama, only 14 states recorded manufacturing gains, BLS records show. These gains, in descending order, were in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, Montana, and Alabama. Hillary Clinton lost 11 of these, including Michigan and Ohio’s key electoral votes. Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remarks undoubtedly hurt her among blue-collar Americans, though it is also possible that workers are concluding that America’s political class does not view manufacturing as a top priority.