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Martha M. Hamilton
By Martha M. Hamilton October 28, 2010

Obama says most job losses occurred before his economic policies took hold

President Barack Obama had jobs on his mind when he sat down Oct. 27, 2010, for a pre-election interview on Comedy Central's The Daily Show  with Jon Stewart.

Under questioning from Stewart, Obama came back to a familiar theme: When he took office, he inherited a mess.

"We lost 4 million jobs before I was sworn in; 750,000 the month I was sworn in; 600,000, the month after that; 600,000 the month after that. So most of the jobs that we lost were lost before the economic policies we put in place had any effect."

Candidates have sparred endlessly over who deserves the blame for the nation’s high unemployment rate -- 9.6 percent in the latest tally. After the Daily Show interview, one of our readers asked us to check Obama's numbers. So we decided to take a look.

Obama didn't give a time frame for the 4 million lost jobs other than to say the losses occurred before he took office. We checked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, official keeper of the jobs statistics, to see if the numbers matched up in some way.

We found a match: Looking at BLS data on seasonally adjusted non-farm employment from December 2007, when the recession officially began, to January 2009, the month before the stimulus was enacted (a 13-month period), the jobs number declined by 4.4 million. So Obama’s first number was right, although he could have been clearer about the time frame.

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When he refers to his economic policies, we presume he is referring to his main economic stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It passed in February 2009, but it took several months before the impact of its spending was felt in the economy.

Job loss didn’t stop, but Obama is right that it slowed down. In the 19 months from February 2009 through September 2010, the month of the most recent preliminary data, the overall job decline in the private and public sectors was 2.6 million. And the number of jobs lost per month has declined from around 700,000 a month at the beginning of the administration to months in which there were small net gains. Since May, however, the losses -- albeit smaller ones -- have returned, giving Republicans fresh ammunition. For example, payroll employment dropped 57,000 between July and August 2010.

"I watched the president on Stewart’s show last night, and I thought his basic point about the timing of the employment losses was correct and ought to be noncontroversial," Gary Burtless, a labor markets expert at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution said in an e-mail.

There's still plenty to debate about the stimulus and its impact on the economy, and the recent reversal of job gains is troubling. But the numbers support Obama's statement, so we rate it True.

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