Trends in American Employment

We can start by taking a quick look at total employment over the last 25 years. This look makes it very easy to see which years were strong economies and where employment would be now if those strong trends had continued.

We can see the years of strong growth on the total jobs graph where the line moves upward. Recessions are where the line is level or downward.

We can also look at annual growth. In this case, the line moving downward represents the economy slowing down, and dropping below the red line represents a serious recession.

We see serious recessions in 1975, 1982-1983, 2002-2003, 2008-2010.

The higher the line goes the higher the growth. We see two strong peaks, 1978 and 1983. We see one long spell of growth 1994 - 2000.

Next, we break this down by administration. We will look at both total employment those years and annual change in employment.

The graphs on the left show total number of jobs reported monthly by the BLS (Establishment Data). The graphs are stacked so that, ideally, each year occurs above the previous year. Any year that is not above the previous is a serious recession. In these graphs we can see the seasonal changes. During most years employment peaks around June, and drops to its lowest in January. If we examine employment changes on a month by month basis, we see an illusion of economic growth every summer and economic decline every winter. To address this illusion, the graphs on the right show annual change - how each month compares to the same month the previous year.

To match population growth, employment should increase by about 2 million jobs each year. In the graphs on the right job growth can be seen directly. In the graphs on the left the growth is shown by the spacing between the annual lines. In these graphs BLS Establishment Data will be shown in blue and House Data in purple.

modified 6/17/2011


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From the end of the Nixon era into the Ford administration job growth was holding steady above 3 million jobs a year.

But then around January 1974 an accelerated decline started taking jobs changes well into the negatives - a clear recession.

A rise from the negatives back to the normal 2.5 million jobs growth level started around June 1975

Causality Questions:

  • Did any factors besides the Arab Oil Embargo contribute to the decline of 1974?
  • What caused the return to normal starting around June 1975?


The graphs show numbers in thousands of jobs. Thus each thousand shown actually represents a million.


Jimmy Carter

After Carter took office employment started rising. Job growth continued until leveling off at rather high number around January of 1978.

Then around March 1979 an accelerated decline started which continue until leveling off slightly negative roughly June 1980. The bottom occurred July of 1980. Then employment started rising slowly. From about June 1980 to February 1981 total jobs remained at about the same number as the previous year


Causality Questions:

  • What caused the increase in growth starting around February 1977?
  • What caused the accelerated decline around March 1979?
  • What cause the rise starting around January 1981?
Ronald Reagan
When Reagan took office in January 1981 job growth had just come back to positive. Job growth rose until July and then in August 1981 returned to accelerated decline into negative numbers, going further negative than in the preceding recession. Total jobs did not return to their 1981 levels until June of 1983. The rise accelerated and leveled off around May 1984 Then During the first year of his second term growth declined for about a year, then rose back to more than 3 million new jobs a year.

Causality Questions:

  • What caused the accelerated decline starting August 1981?
  • What caused the surge starting June 1983?
  • Why did job growth level off in 1984 and decline in 1985?
  • Why was job growth relatively stable from the surge of 1983 until mid 1989?



George Bush Sr.

Job growth started declining as soon as Bush took office. The decline accelerated around may of 1990.

A recession here is clearly apparent as the change numbers go negative, and the total jobs for 1991 dips below that of 1990. Total jobs did not rise above their 1990 level until until November of 1992.


Causality Questions:

  • Why did growth start declining as soon as Bush took office?
  • What started the accelerated decline in May 1990?
  • What ended the accelerated decline roughly March 1991?
Bill Clinton:

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the economy was already rising and continued and continued to do so until January 1995. For the next year, growth decreased, but only went below 2 million jobs a year for 1 month. .

Through the second term the rate of job growth remained stable a roughly 3 million new jobs a year until about June 2000 when growth started to decline.


Causality Questions:

  • What started the accelerated decline January 1995?
  • Why did this decline end so abruptly before going negative, or even below 1 million, in December of 1995?
  • Why did job growth level and stay level for over three years January 1997?
  • Why did growth never go negative during this entire time ( January 1992 to April 2001)?

January 2000 the Household data was recalibrated this creates the illusion of sudden job increase for the purple line on the jobs change graph.

G. W. Bush:


For the first few years the total employment graph here looks upside-down, as compared to all the other graphs. The first year is the highest, the second below that, and the third below that. That represents over 2 years of solid decline! Even the 2004 "economic surge" leaves total employment below the first year, 2001, until September.

Although growth is finally reached after nearly 4 years, strong growth is never achieved. By 2008, decline occurs once again dropping total employment below the previous two years totals.

Causality Questions:

  • What caused the accelerated decline in March 2001?
  • What caused the turn around June 2002?
  • Why did the turn around stall in December 2002?
  • Why did the recovery resume around September 2003?

During George W. Bush's second term, growth remains sluggish, roughly keeping pace with population growth. Growth peaked in early 2006, and declined from there.

Causality Questions:

  • why did the peak remain low compared to other administrations.
  • What caused the decline in 2006?
  • What caused the decline to accelerate in 2008?
Click here for preliminary Obama graphs.  

January 2003 the household data was recalibrated. This creates the illusion of a sudden burst of jobs for the purple line on the jobs change graph.


Measures & Rankings

These graphs show how how many months different job changes persisted. Major growth means more than 4 million jobs over the previous year, strong means 3 to 4 million over the previous year, growth means only 2 to 3 million jobs over the previous year, soft means 1 to 2 million jobs, slow means 0 to 1 million jobs, serious means a loss of up to 1 million jobs over the previous year, and crisis means more than 1 million lost over the previous year.

We can see that only two presidents since Ford, presided over major growth, and only three over crisis level decline. Below, we show some rankings based on these numbers.
Average Annual Jobs Created
1. Clinton 2.9 M
2. Carter 2.8 M
3. Reagan 1.9 M
4. Ford 1.4 M
5. Bush Sr. 0.8 M
6. GW Bush 0.6M
Growth change from start to end
1. Reagan + 3.0 M
2. Clinton +0.5M
3 Ford -0.8 M
4. Bush SR -2.0 M
5 Carter -2.2 M
6 GW Bush -3.6 M

The first table shows average increase in jobs over the previous year for each president. To keep up with population growth the economy needs to create about 2 million jobs a year. Only two of the last six presidents saw this happen, Clinton and Carter.

Next we see how annual job growth changed from the quarter they took office to the quarter they left. Only two saw an increases.

The next graph show what percentage of time they presided over strong growth, meaning more than 3 million jobs created over the previous year. Carter and Clinton nearly tie for first place, and GW Bush, again, takes last place having presided over no strong growth.

If we look at their best quarters, Reagan and Carter nearly tie for first place. For Bush Sr, the best quarter was the quarter he took office, everything else was lower.

Time in Strong Growth (>3M)
1. Carter 52% (25 MO)
2. Clinton 50% (48 MO)
3. Reagan 35% (35 MO)
4. Ford 23% (11 MO)
5. Bush SR 8% (4 MO)
6. GW Bush 0% (0 MO)
Best Quarter
1. Reagan 4.6 M (Jun - aug 84)
2. Carter 4.5 M (APR - Jun 78)
3. Clinton 3.9 M (nov94 - Jan 95)
4. Ford 3.3 M (feb - APR 73)
5. Bush SR 3.2 M (jan-mar89: 1st Q)
6. GW Bush 2.7 M (jan-mar06)
Months of Decline (< 1M )
1. Clinton 0% (0 MO)
2. Carter 17% (8 MO)
3. Reagan 29% (28 MO)
4 Ford 29% (14 MO)
5. Bush Sr. 50% (24 MO)
6. GW Bush 50% (48 MO)
Worst Quarter
1. Clinton +1.6 M (Jan - feb 93)
2. Carter -0.2 M (jul - sep 80)
3. Bush SR -1.6 M (may - jul 91)
4. .Ford -1.9 M (apr - Jun 75)
5. GW Bush -2.1 M (oct - dec 08)
6 Reagan -2.4 M (sep - nov 83)

In contrast, we can look at the negatives. Less negatives imply less suffering.

When it comes to staying above 1 million jobs created each year, Clinton takes first place with no months below 1 million in annual job growth. The two Bushes score way below the others, with both presiding over decline half of their time.

For worst quarters, Clinton is the only one to have a positive worst quarter. Surprising to many, Reagan actually presided over the worst quarter for jobs in the last 30 years.

Other Data


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