The GOP v. Democrats, Round 3 – Jobs

By Hugh Griffin-Banerjee and Miranda Park

This is the third article in a series of three that examines the relative economic performance of Republican and Democratic administrations since 1977. If you haven’t already done so, read the first and second articles, which compare party US federal debt and stock-market performance during the same period. Spoiler alert: the underdog Democrats defeated the overdog Republicans in both instances, and neither outcome was a close call!

In this piece, we attempt to determine which party has been the better “job creator” over the last four decades. As in the last two episodes, there are a number of metrics that can be used to measure relative job creation, but the simplest, most widely understood, and least obscured by specious data is the unemployment rate.

The incoming and outgoing unemployment rates by administration were as follows:

President Party In Office Incoming Outgoing Change
Jimmy  Carter Dem 1977-81 8.5% 8.0% -0.5%
Ronald Reagan GOP 1981-89 8.0% 5.6% -2.4%
George HW Bush GOP 1989-93 5.6% 7.8% 2.2%
Bill  Clinton Dem 1993-01 7.8% 4.1% -3.7%
George W Bush GOP 2001-09 4.1% 8.6% 4.5%
Barrack  Obama Dem 2009-17 8.6% 4.9% -3.7%

On average, the unemployment rate increased from 5.9% to 7.3% during the last three Republican administrations (prior to the Trump Reign of Error). On average, the unemployment rate decreased from 8.3% to 5.7% during the last three Democratic administrations before Biden.

Another way to gauge the difference: The unemployment rate increased by an average of 24% during the average Republican administration; it decreased by an average of 32% during the average Democratic administration. That’s a difference of tens of millions of jobs over forty years.

Naturally, the American electorate is generally oblivious to the fact that unemployment drops during Democratic administrations. More than anything else, this is a testament to the Democrats’ infuriating ability to hide their successes while the Republicans take credit for things they didn’t do.  

Update as of March, 2021: The unemployment rate when Donald Trump left office was 6.2%, up 1.3% from the end of President Obama’s second term. We might give The Donald some slack if he hadn’t botched the management of the COVID-19 pandemic so badly that more Americans were sickened and died per capita than in any other nation in the industrialized world. 


(1) The unemployment data are from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(2) The comparison assumes that each incoming president was responsible for the economy from the first day of February after his inauguration until the first first day of February after his successor’s inauguration, which is why incoming and exit figures are identical.

3) This article was first written in 2018. We didn’t redo it for the usual reason: the results got worse for the Republicans.


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