After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.
– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance (1893)
The Donald boasts – almost violently – about what he calls the Greatest Economy Ever. Yet, reality is nothing of the kind.
This makes today – indeed, it seems like we do this just about every day, in some form or another – a good day for a reminder that “prosperity” is a gift of capitalism. It’s not the handiwork of vainglorious politicians.
By a quirk of fate, the Donald was sworn-in during month No. 90 of the current expansion – a longevity point attained only twice before when Richard Nixon was elected in month No. 94 and George Bush the Younger in month No. 117.
This is fundamentally important. Very late in the cycle, levels of economic activity always look impressive. That’s because they’re cumulative. Rates of change are far more problematic because octogenarian business expansions tend to peter out in their waning days.
Early in the cycle, the political hacks on the Imperial Washington end of the Acela Corridor and the stock peddlers on the Wall Street end gravitate to the high rates of change that come with the rebound from recession. That’s reflected in the number of jobs gained or the annualized growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP).
Near the end of the cycle, they switch to level-based indicators, such as the total number of American employed, the average weekly wage, or real median family income. All of these latter measures, of course, capture the accumulation of all historic gains. They stand on the shoulders of all that came before.
So, yes, with 158.5 million employed in October 2019, there were more Americans working than ever before in history.
But, so what…
The same thing could be said by every president of modern times. Thus, there were 61.6 million employed when Eisenhower was sworn in during January 1953, but by the end of his years in office and those of his successors, the level was higher each and every time:
- Eisenhower, January 1961… 65.8 million
- Kennedy-Johnson, January 1969… 76.8 million
- Nixon-Ford, January 1977… 89.9 million
- Carter, January 1981… 100.0 million
- Reagan, January 1989… 116.7 million
- Bush the Elder, January 1993… 119.3 million
- Clinton, January 2001… 137.8 million
- Bush the Younger, January 2009… 142.2 million
- Obama, January 2017… 152.2 million
- Trump, October 2019… 158.5 million
Total Number of American Employed, 1953 to 2019