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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Barbour Inflates Obama’s Job Losses

Haley Barbour grossly exaggerated the nation’s job losses under President Barack Obama in a March 14 speech in Chicago.

Speaking to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Republican governor of Mississippi urged his audience to look at the Obama administration’s record "in the last two years" on spending and job creation.

Barbour, March 14: Well, let’s look at their record: in the last two years the federal government spent $7 trillion and our economy lost 7 million jobs. I guess we ought to be glad they didn’t spend $12 trillion!

Although not in Barbour’s prepared remarks, the New York Times reported that Barbour added to his joke when actually delivering his speech, saying: "I guess we ought to be glad they didn’t spend $12 trillion. We might have lost 12 million jobs.”

Barbour was going for a laugh, but he’s taking liberties in his laugh line. Let’s look at the record.

It’s true that the federal government has spent about $7 trillion over the past two fiscal years: $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2010 and an estimated $3.8 trillion in the current fiscal year, as Table 1.1 of the president’s latest budget proposal shows. (It’s not exactly "the last two years," since the current fiscal year doesn’t end until Sept. 30, but it’s close enough.)

But Barbour is dead wrong about job losses in the last two years. He’s not even close.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total nonfarm employment (the standard for measuring jobs) decreased by 3.24 million in Obama’s first two years in office, from January 2009 through January 2011. The job loss is even less if you look at "the last two years" — that is, the most recent 24-month period, from February 2009 through February 2011. By that measure, the job loss was 2.32 million jobs. That’s a lot of people out of work in either case, but it’s not even half the number that Barbour claimed.

It’s true that nearly 8.8 million jobs were lost between the most recent peak in January 2008 and when the job slump ended in February 2010, according to recently revised BLS figures. (The loss was even worse than BLS had thought when we last looked at this subject.) About half were lost under Bush and half under Obama. But in the past year nearly 1.3 million jobs have been regained.

Any way you look at it, Barbour was way off.

We asked James Richardson, Barbour’s spokesman, how the governor arrived at the 7 million figure. We are waiting for a response and will pass it along if we get one.

— Lauren Hitt