Data Wonk

Economy Is Booming Under Biden

Economic numbers at historic highs. And Milwaukee doing even better.

By - Jan 5th, 2022 03:04 pm
Jericho / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

Jericho / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

Recently, an article by Zach Jewell in the conservative Daily Wire mocked President Joe Biden for claiming that “the economy is stronger today than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.” Jewell goes on:

In a virtual meeting on Wednesday with the “Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force,” Biden discussed the “progress” the economy has made since he took office. Biden even quoted an anonymous analyst who said that 2021 was the “strongest first-year economic track record of any President in the last 50 years.”

Who is this “anonymous analyst?” Jewell does not say—nor does he link to his comments. It turns out this is a direct quote from an article published in Bloomberg, and not anonymously. Matthew Winkler, the former Editor-In-Chief of Bloomberg News, reports that:

U.S. financial markets are outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century, and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years notwithstanding the contrary media narrative contributing to dour public opinion.

Winkler bases his conclusion using 10 measures of economic performance in the first year of office over the last 50 years, starting with Jimmy Carter. With one exception, Biden scores first or second among the eight presidents. The exception is per capita disposable income, on which Biden is fifth.

Before getting into the 10 measures, it should be noted that that there is widespread consensus among economists that presidents—and governors—get too much credit, or blame, for the state of the economy. That said, the present economy is very consistent with the policies that Biden has adopted.

The three economic measures on which Biden scored number one were gross domestic product (GDP), profit growth, and growth in consumer credit. He scored second on the remainder including stock market performance (using the S&P 500 index) compared both to historical growth and to other nations’ stock markets, business productivity, appreciation in the value of the dollar compared to other currencies, and job growth, both in overall nonfarm employment and in manufacturing jobs.

Most of these measures are for the nation as a whole, having no application to smaller units of government, such as states or counties. Jobs are an exception to this rule. GDP would also be an exception, but only the values for the first two quarters of 2021 have been published so far. Winkler handles this limitation by using the “median estimate of more than 80 economists surveyed by Bloomberg” to estimate GDP growth during the Biden administration.

The next two graphs, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show the percentage growth in non-farm payrolls and in manufacturing jobs during the Biden administration. The blue line in both graphs shows the growth for the nation during this period. In addition, I have added data for Wisconsin and the Milwaukee region.

In the graph below, the red line shows overall job growth in Wisconsin. The green line tracks growth in the Milwaukee metropolitan area (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties). The yellow line shows growth in Milwaukee County.

Job growth in Wisconsin and the Milwaukee metro lags the nation. Surprisingly (to me at least), growth in Milwaukee County substantially exceeds that for all three of its parent entities, the US, Wisconsin, and the four-county metropolitan area.

The next graph tracks the growth of manufacturing employment in the US, in Wisconsin, and in the Milwaukee metro area. Strikingly, this graph shows a surge in local manufacturing employment.

The unemployment rate is one commonly used measure of economic strength (and weakness) that was not used by Winkler. During the last eleven months, the unemployment rate has declined substantially nationally, in Wisconsin, and locally. The latter is particularly gratifying, if it reflects evidence that the Biden economy is benefitting people who were traditionally left behind in economic recoveries.

An optimistic view of these results is that they not only show the success of the Biden administration in its efforts to recover from the pandemic recession, but that the biggest benefits went to those most in need. For instance, in the past, the unemployment rate in Milwaukee County was higher than in other parts of the state. I don’t want to overstate the evidence for this conclusion, but, if true, it would represent a breakthrough. This hypothesis is also consistent with the earlier job growth data that show particularly strong overall job growth in Milwaukee County and strong manufacturing growth in metro Milwaukee.

The Daily Wire is generally considered one of the most respectable of  the Trumpist publications. Unlike commentators on Fox News or most right-wing internet sites, it doesn’t actually lie, it is claimed. Yet it creates its own alternative to reality.

Jewell’s attack on Biden for referring to the Bloomberg News conclusions shines an inadvertent light on the dominant right-wing thought processes. He starts his critique by saying:

Even after recent polls have shown that the president’s unfavorability ratings in regards to the economy are lower than President Jimmy Carter’s near the same time of his first term, Joe Biden claims that the economy is stronger today than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other words, Biden is wrong about the economy because it conflicts with what many people believe. Evidence be damned. The belief that Biden’s economy is a failing economy joins other fantasies on the right such as that Trump won the election and that the vaccines pose a danger that outweighs its benefits.

I am reminded of Chico Marx to Mrs. Teasdale in the movie Duck Soup: “Well, who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

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Categories: Data Wonk, Economics

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