Pelosi Distorts Jobs Data at Netroots Nation

LAS VEGAS — Taking questions from liberal activists at the Netroots Nation conference this morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a number of claims about Obama administration jobs data that don’t hold up to close scrutiny.

“In the first 8 months, by the end of August, of 2010, more jobs will be created under Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress than the 8 years of the Bush administration,” Pelosi claimed.

Based on an analysis of official employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I can begin to get an idea of what she might be basing her claim on.

During the entire Bush administration, which I define as February 2001 though January 2009, the economy added a net of 1 million jobs. In the first six months of 2010, the economy added 882,000 jobs, and so she’s assuming it will surpass the Bush mark by the end of August.

However, her claim falters on several levels. First, we don’t have actual jobs data through August. Second, a lot of the job gains during the first half of this year were temporary Census jobs.

Finally, by starting her analysis this year, she ignores the nearly 4 million jobs that were lost from February 2009 through December 2009. Pelosi would probably argue that Obama inherited a mess from Bush, so 2009 numbers shouldn’t count. But Bush inherited a slowing economy, too. There were 1.7 million job losses in 2001. Thus, if we were to give Bush the same pass for job losses during his first year in office, then the economy would have added 2.7 million jobs in his final 7 years — far more than Obama could hope to add in the next few months.

During her talk, Pelosi also made the claim that the economic stimulus bill “saved or created 3.6 million jobs.”

Yet that’s a number that’s completely made up by the administration, and even Christina Romer, chair of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, admitted to me earlier this year that it was hard to accurately make these sorts of economic forecasts:

“I will be the first to admit that none of us have a crystal ball, and you’re absolutely right,” Romer told me. “What I do, what any professional economist does, what any professional forecaster does, is to use everything we have from historical relationships, to knowledge of economic theory, to advanced statistical methods to try to do the best we can to say, ‘what does the data suggest about the path we were on?’ And things like that. So, fundamentally what you’re saying is, ‘This is hard,’ and I would agree completely. That’s why my office spends a lot of time on this. That’s why professional forecasters across both the government and in private industry spend a lot of time trying to do the best that they can. You’re right, we are often wrong. But I think after the fact, we are often correct.”