On “The private sector is doing fine” kerfuffle…

President Obama created something of dust-up yesterday after giving a statement on the economy. The line regurgitated around the (media) world was this:

The private sector is doing fine.

Oh the season of gaffes! As an avid consumer of news and journalist Twitter feeds the whole life cycle of these things is nigh unbearable. For a look at how the news media has become a self-eating oppo-research apparatus read Jon Chait:

It’s obviously true that political campaigns will take their opponents’ statements out of context. That is probably unavoidable. The key step I’m focusing on here is when the journalist internalizes the work of the oppo researcher. Perhaps, in the end, the dumbest, least fair, most context-free interpretation of the line will ultimately prevail. But when journalists assume this will happen and make no effort to fight against that process, we go from merely reporting on the stupidity of politics to becoming accomplices of it.

And here’s the context for the President’s statement:

We’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. Over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing problems is with state and local government, often with cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help they’re accustomed to from the federal government.

I actually watched this live and thought nothing of it, but of course I’m not a paid professional gaffe-hunter. He was talking about one aspect of the economy – jobs – in the context of what Congress and the White House could do to address it. In that respect, then yes, when we’re looking at jobs the private sector is doing fine in comparison to the public sector.

Here is total private sector employment in thousands of persons starting in February of 2009:

And here is total public sector employment in thousands since Feb. 2009:

The spike you see was the 2010 Census, and was all temporary hiring.

Since February of 2009 we’ve had a net job loss in the public sector of roughly 608,000. In that same time we’ve had a net job gain of 780,000 in the private sector. If our response to the recession would have been the similar to what happened under George W. Bush here’s how different today would look:

At this point in George W. Bush’s administration, public-sector employment had grown by 3.7 percent. That would be equal to a bit over 800,000 jobs today. If you add those hypothetical jobs, the unemployment rate falls to 7.3 percent.

Or, as Klein points out, if we had just broken even on public sector jobs the unemployment rate would be 7.8 percent. For a more complete graph-tutorial of this particular kerfuffle, Joe Weisenthal’s post is a must-read.

The point of what he said, which is no different then what a lot of people (including myself) have said, is that the single largest drag on employment growth has been in the public sector.  In the context of what the government can do about the jobs picture in this country at the very least let’s stop laying people off. At the most let’s hire some those people back – specifically in education, for the love of everything. At least in that regard we’d be emulating Reagan in a good way.


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