U.S. employment increased over President Trump’s first year in office, expanding from 145,541,000 in January to 147,380,000 in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Thus, amid the sound and fury of #NeverTrump media coverage, there has been a significant, and overlooked, development.  Donald Trump has avoided an economic curse shared by nearly every Republican president since the GOP was founded in 1854: presiding over a recession within a year of taking office.

The United States is unique among industrialized countries for its business-cycle chronology, which dates to the mid-19th century and is compiled by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Cambridge-based nonprofit founded in 1920.  The NBER’s cycle chronology is routinely cited in the commercial press, though generally ignored by political journalists unfamiliar with its nuances.  These include relying on peaks in employment and industrial production as recession indicators, while the political media fixate on GDP.  The NBER chronology shows expansion is the normal state of the U.S. economy, interrupted by 33 recessions since 1854.

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, took office in March 1861 during a recession that started in October 1860, the NBER chronology shows.  It ended in June 1861.  Another recession started in April 1865, the month that Lincoln was assassinated.  Lincoln is one of six Republican presidents to enter the White House while a recession was underway.  Others were Rutherford B. Hayes (October 1873 to March 1879); William McKinley (December 1895 to June 1897); Warren G. Harding (January 1920 to July 1921); Calvin Coolidge (May 1923 to July 1924); and Gerald Ford (November 1973 to March 1975).  McKinley, Harding, and Coolidge—like Lincoln—served long enough for subsequent recessions to occur during their administrations.

The 20th century’s longest recession, the Great Depression (August 1929 to March 1933), is closely associated with another Republican, Herbert Hoover.  Economic historians contend that monetary policy contracted when it should have expanded in response to the Depression, though Hoover’s fiscal policies—including tax increases—were also a contributing factor.  Harding and Coolidge, in the 1920’s, cut taxes in response to downturns.  The Republicans, for much of the 20th century, were stuck with Hoover’s association with the Great Depression, which ended the month that Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt took office.

Ten other Republicans were elected during expansions, only to have the economy contract after they took office.  These were Ulysses S. Grant (June 1869 to December 1870); Chester A. Arthur (March 1882 to May 1885); Benjamin Harrison (July 1890 to May 1891); Theodore Roosevelt (September 1902 to August 1904, and May 1907 to June 1908); William Howard Taft (January 1910 to January 1912); Dwight D. Eisenhower (July 1953 to May 1954, and August 1957 to April 1958); Richard Nixon (December 1969 to November 1970); Ronald Reagan (July 1981 to November 1982); George H.W. Bush (July 1990 to March 1991); and George W. Bush, in office during two such contractions (March to November 2001, and December 2007 to June 2009).

The bottom line: Economic recessions occurred during the terms of 17 of Trump’s 18 Republican predecessors.  The exception?  James A. Garfield, assassinated in 1881.

One odd consideration in comparing the NBER’s chronology to presidential terms is the frequency of a first-year GOP recession curse.  Indeed, every Republican president, with the exceptions of Garfield, Harrison, George H.W. Bush, and now Trump, witnessed a recession during his first year in office.  Bush I’s recession started during his second year (1990), ended in his third (1991), and was the subject of a bitter debate in his fourth (1992), a dispute he lost to Democrat Bill Clinton, who advanced the idea, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Economists have no widely accepted explanation for the first-year curse, only theories.  Economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson suggested in The American Economic Review (2016) that the “answer is not found . . . in systematically more expansionary monetary or fiscal policy,” but in other factors, including “more benign oil shocks” and “perhaps more optimistic consumer expectations about the near-term future.”

Recessions are nonpartisan events.  Since 1857, a recession has also occurred under every Democratic president, save two.  Those exceptions were Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton.  Johnson presided over the second-longest expansion in U.S. history (106 months, February 1961 to December 1969).  Clinton’s eight-year tenure occurred during the longest expansion (120 months).  Even FDR, with whom the political media have associated the ending of the Great Depression, presided over a severe 13-month contraction, the “Roo sevelt Recession” (May 1937 to June 1938).

New records will be set if the economy continues to grow under Donald Trump.  The current expansion, if it continues, will become the second longest in May.  A new all-time record would be established in July 2019, and if Trump serves one four-year term without a recession, he would become the first Republican in history to do so.