White House Economic Claims Questioned

March 14, 2012
Mr. Obama speaks during a previous visit to DenverBarack Obama /Free Photos

Since last week, President Obama and his allies have been trumpeting reports that 227,000 new jobs were created in the month of February.  The statistic has become a staple talking point for Democrats, who have begun citing it, along with the counterintuitive claim that the last six months have been the most vibrant for the U.S. economy since 2006.

Cognizant that many Americans are understandably skeptical of claims that there has been marked improvement in the sputtering economy and tight job market, a campaigning Obama told a crowd in Virginia on Friday, “I did not run for this office just to get back to where we were.”

That might be a good thing for the President, because as many of his critics are quick to point out, America’s economy is nowhere near “where we were” when the President assumed office.    

Despite the February job numbers, the unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent.  In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that there are 5.2 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were four years ago.

Others have even questioned the reliability of the administration’s 227,000 job claim.

In a CBS piece , Constantine von Hoffman argues that the job numbers for February – as well as those for January – are less a product of economic growth than they are a “quirk” of Bureau of Labor Statistics methodology.

“It’s important to underscore two key words[in the BLS report]: ‘seasonally adjusted,’” says von Hoffman, “Before being adjusted for the time of year, the [BLS] data show that the economy actually lost 2.7 million and 2.6 million jobs in February and January, respectively.”

His critics note that this is not the first time the president has twisted statistics to suit his political rhetoric when it comes to the economy.

Rising fuel prices, another hot button economic issue, is another area where recent White House claims have raised eyebrows.

Obama touted his administration’s record on boosting domestic production yesterday in a written statement, arguing that the White House “focus on increased domestic oil and gas production, currently at an eight-year high, combined with the historic fuel economy standards we put in place, means that we will continue to reduce our nation’s vulnerability to the ups and downs of the global oil market.”

But industry observers have noted that the increase in production has little to do with any White House “focus.”

Indeed, the most well-publicized domestic oil and gas policy “focuses” of the Obama Administration (the offshore drilling moratorium, staunch opposition to the keystone pipeline, and the formulation of new federal fracking rules to name just a few) have been geared toward restricting domestic oil and gas production, not facilitating it.

A recent report from the American Petroleum Institute seems to support that contention, noting that domestic oil and gas production has actually declined significantly on federal lands since 2009, falling by some 15 and 10 percent, respectively.

Any increases in domestic production, critics argue, have been due to production growth on non-federal lands, where many onerous and prohibitive regulatory and permitting requirements do not apply.

And the data seems to suggest they are right.  According to the report, between 2009 and 2011 on-shore oil production increased by 13 percent on non-federal lands, while natural gas production on non-federal lands grew by 11 percent over the same period.

All of which creates a good news bad news scenario for Mr. Obama.

The good news is that there appear to be encouraging economic signs, although certainly not to the degree that the administration implies.  The bad news is that much of the data suggest that these nominal improvements are occuring in spite of, and in some cases being hampered by, White House policies.

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