Explaining the meaning of the word ‘net’

The Washington Examiner‘s Conn Carroll takes a cheap shot at Greg Sargent today, based on a piece he published referencing one of my posts, so I thought I’d take a moment to weigh in.

DNC stenographer Greg Sargent is attacking Mitt Romney again, this time for Romney’s claim that Obama “has not created any new jobs.” Sargent responds: “But as Steve notes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private sector has added around 2.3 million jobs since Obama took office.”

That is just plain false. Obama was inaugurated in January 2009. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics jobs report for that month shows the U.S. economy had 112.04 million private sector jobs at that time. The most recent jobs report, posted on December 2nd, shows that U.S. economy has 109.72 million private sector jobs.

So it appears that the private sector has lost, not gained, 2.3 million jobs since Obama took office.

We’ll update this post if Sargent manages to explain his math error.

Republicans frequently struggle with this — jobs really aren’t their strong point — so let’s set the record straight.

A net decrease in jobs is unavoidable when one starts with an economy that’s fallen off a cliff. In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy lost a combined, jaw-dropping total of 8.6 million jobs — 3.6 million in 2008 and 5 million in 2009. That’s what happens when there’s a global economic collapse.

No one, not even the staff at the Washington Examiner, should expect the economy to replace 8.6 million jobs in two years following a financial crisis (unless we had a Congress willing to consider a wildly ambitious stimulus agenda). The very idea is absurd.

Does the fact that the economy lost 5 million jobs in 2009 offer proof that President Obama is to blame for those losses? Not if you’re sane — Obama wasn’t responsible for the crash that happened before he took office, and immediately after the Recovery Act passed, the U.S. job picture, in both the private and public sectors, began to improve.

In 2010, the overall economy added about a million jobs, with roughly 1.2 million in the private sector. So far in 2011, with a month to go, the overall economy has added 1.5 million jobs, with roughly 1.2 million in the private sector. (Since March 2010, American businesses have created 2.9 million jobs.)

Indeed, this year, private-sector job growth is already the strongest the U.S. economy has seen in five years, and is even stronger than the growth seen in the final year of the Clinton presidency.

Is this enough to make up for the losses from 2008 and 2009? Obviously not. But the whole basis for the discussion is Mitt Romney’s claim that President Obama “has not created any new jobs.” Conn Carroll’s odd protestations notwithstanding, Romney’s claim is plainly not true. If Romney wanted to argue Obama has not yet reached a net gain for his presidency, that would be accurate (and understandable under the circumstances).

But that’s not what he said. Instead, Romney contradicted the readily-available data.

I’ll update this post if Carroll manages to learn the difference between annual job growth and net job losses.

Postscript: In case this wasn’t quite clear enough, here’s a chart showing private-sector job gains and losses over the last two decades. Blue columns show years in which there’s a Democratic president; red columns show years in which there’s a Republican president. (Note: 2011 is not yet over.)

If Romney and Carroll want to argue that the two columns on the far right edge of the chart (2010 and 2011), aren’t big enough to make up for the losses on the two columns to their left (2008 and 2009), that’s true. It takes time to recover from a crisis as severe as the Great Recession. But Romney and Carroll are instead arguing that the two columns on the far right edge of the chart don’t actually reflect job creation, and that’s just silly.