Glen Kessler, on his Washington Post Fact Checker blog, compares the job creation records of President Obama and Governor Romney over their times in office. His conclusion:
The similarities are actually more striking than the differences.
Coincidentally, I've been looking at unemployment data from the same source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and I've found the same thing. Let's start with some historical context. The plot at the top of this post shows monthly (seasonally adjusted) unemployment, as a percentage, for the entire U.S. from 1970 through the present. The blue line shows Obama's tenure. (Unemployment isn't a perfect measure of the jobs picture, because it's measured against those people actually looking for work, but it's a useful indicator.) It should be clear that Obama started out deep in a hole, with rising unemployment that didn't turn around for several months (with help from the stimulus plan).
Here's another plot of the same data, on the shorter time scale of 2003 through the present. (The patterns in the black and blue lines are simply stretched out a bit.) I've added a red line to show unemployment data for Massachusetts during the period that Romney was governor. You'll notice that the Massachusetts line tracks the national line fairly closely: there's a peak about halfway into 2003, then a slow decline through 2007. Massachusetts does slightly better than the national average for most of this period, rising above the average only in 2006.
Now let's fiddle with the time scale a bit more. What would happen instead of looking at years along the horizontal axis, we looked at the number of months that Obama and Romney were (or have been, for Obama) in office? We get this.
Do you see huge differences? Except for where the lines start on the vertical axis, I'm not seeing very much. The Massachusetts slump ends within the first 12 months, with unemployment gradually falling. The national unemployment line doesn't start to descend until about 12 months in. On average the recoveries look to be very close in shape.
I'm not going to dig into the whys of the two situations I'm comparing, except to say that governors and presidents have different amounts of influence on their respective economies, and they're helped or hampered in different ways by their legislatures. I'll focus on a simpler question.
If there's little difference between the two candidates with respect to their records in job creation and reduction of unemployment, what does this mean? One answer is that if we want to choose between them, we look at what they say they'll do in the future. What plans have the candidates and their respective parties put forward?
(To be continued, maybe.)