The Private Sector Statement

From The Atlantic:

Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider has assembled a 24-slide show to illustrate what President Obama meant when he infamously said the private sector is “doing fine.” Below are the three key graphs. They don’t change the fact that, obviously, the private sector has a ways to go before its recovery is complete. But they’re powerful enough to make me wonder: What if Obama, rather than just try to walk back his unfortunate choice of words, trotted out some visual aids and spent 60 seconds explaining exactly what he meant? ‘Professorial’ can be a feature, not a bug.

The first graph illustrates that, since the end of Obama’s first year in office, private sector employment has indeed recovered steadily and is now back to where it was when he took office–around 111 million jobs.

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  • Jon

    Also notice that the scale in some of his charts help prove his point. Government shrinkage uses a much smaller scale than private sector growth. I would like to see these represented as percentages over previous years instead.

  • DRT


    The numbers are awefully easy to compute

    Graph 1, change from beginning to end – 0 jobs

    Graph 2 – Change from beginning to end less than zero jobs

    Tongue in cheek aside, the actual numbers are:

    Graph 1 – Change from beginning to end 0%
    Graph 2 – Change from beginning to end -3.3%

    What is your point?

  • Well said. This is a classic case of “gotcha”–not to say Obama hasn’t done plenty of that to others, but in terms of the substance of the matter he had a point.

  • DRT

    The article is quite interesting, and rather that us sit around and say that Obama does not know what he is doing, or that he made a mistake in not trotting out the graphs, it is much more interesting to assume that he indeed did know what he was doing and then we should try to ascertain what that means.

    – It means that he felt that the message would be lost on the average voter. That the average voter would never see the charts and instead would rely on their usual sources to get their information

    – It means that the “out of touch” narrative that the right will espouse is not more harmful than the “out of touch” narrative that they would espouse having seen the graphs. And given the average person will immediately tune out the graphs, I suspect he is right.

    – It means that he does not feel that he has to fight each and every battle, that he feels it is fine to concede some of these early ones.

    – It means that he is likely not out of touch and that he has a pretty good plan to hammer that home in the future. If he is out there pounding jobs jobs jobs and there is little ambiguity about that then this will never be an issue.

    I think that last speculation is the real meat here.

  • AHH

    Greg M. @3 makes a vital point.
    These “gotcha” moments, taking something out of context and blowing it up (whether the target is Obama’s “private sector” remark or Romney’s comment about liking to fire people) debase the political process and should be rejected.

  • The “gotchas” are physically addictive, in fact. Is it possible to undo our individual & cultural addiction to partisanship – which the media reflects and feeds? That’s going to be difficult, I fear. 🙁

    Jon, #1, you didn’t make your case that the charts reflect any bias, at all. What’s your point? The scales are clearly stated on the axes and the intervals are regular. I can personally attest to the well-respected, acclaimed professionalism of the Economics Research Dept at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank which provided the charts & data. There is a percentage change chart which reflects that state and local gov’t spending growth is non-existent. (Haven’t you noticed schools, police & fire depts getting hit w/ major cuts & layoffs in your neighborhood? We have.) The public sector is getting hammered, and it’s more due to the gridlock in Congress caused by Congressional hyper-partistanship and inability to work together. We’re electing representatives to reflect our addiction to being “right” and “principled” over truthful and committed to the good of our country, together.

  • Peter

    What about the graph in this article:
    It does not seem to support the claims of the Business Insider article.

  • Patrick

    When Obama came into office, we were in the throes of an economic banking crisis. It didn’t start in 2009, it started in late 2007, so claiming we’ve recovered to 2009 levels would not sell well since we had unemployment at historic highs then as we do now. That’s why he immediately backstroked, it was a foolish statement for a politician to make. We’ve had high unemployment longer now than since FDR’s era.

    His policies may or may not be the best option, but, politically that statement was foolish and he knows that all too well.

  • DRT


    I was all set to discuss the difference between showing total employment and unemployment, which are different.

    But the graph does not even really require that. If you look at your graph, it too is showing that the private sector is doing better over the past couple years with the unemployment rate coming back to the 2009 levels, while the government unemployment rate continues to get worse.

    What is your point?

  • DRT

    Patrick, just to be fair to the Prez, it is one thing to say that if he was judging his statements purely based on the benefit that he would get from a political outcome then he absolutely should not have made that statement; and quite another thing to simply state that it was politically foolish.

    He is an educated bean counter type of person certainly does not seem to always make statements based on the standard of whether the statement would be advantageous to him politically. That is a strength, not a weakness.

    One of the major gripes against Romney is that we all think he is going to say whatever he needs to say based on political merit. I think that is foolish.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Forget the graphs correct or not– anyone can make or design a graph to prove a point. Unemployment has gotten worse since his presidency. I personally know construction, contractors, and other small business owners out of work. True facts—only from trusted sources, are very difficult to discern. Numbers are funny guys and can be manipulated at will. We need to have camel knees seeking wisdom from the One who is True and ask for his wisdom to discern. There is a feeling of despair of many folks these days.