Analysts: Obama’s Economic Legacy Most Dismal of the Postwar Era

By Ben Johnson Published on May 10, 2016

In economic terms, Barack Obama’s presidency will go down as the most dismal of the postwar era and one of the worst in history, according to two recent analyses.

While the president is quick to point out that he “inherited a recession,” he has presided over the slowest recovery of the century, with GDP growth stagnant, productivity low and family incomes flatlining or falling.

Fourth-Worst Economic President in History?

“Average productivity growth for the past five years has been lower than any other five-year period on record, which extends back to 1947,” wrote Just Facts President James Agresti. “In fact, it has been 82 percent below the average of the 50 years prior to the Great Recession.”

The picture is the same even factoring out the economic downturn, which officially ended in June 2009. “Real GDP growth beyond population growth from 2010 to 2015 has been 39% below the average of the 25 years prior to the Great Recession,” Agresti, who relied on the Bureau of Labor Statistics for his assessment, concluded.

With this record, President Obama is on his way to becoming the first U.S. president never to have a single year of 3 percent GDP growth. Real growth in the first quarter of 2016 was an anemic 0.5 percent.

Louis Woodhill, a Forbes contributor, wrote that, using “wildly optimistic” assumptions about the rest of 2016, the U.S. economy will grow by only 1.55 percent during Barack Obama’s tenure in office.

“This would place his presidency fourth from the bottom of the list” of all presidencies, he wrote, “above only those of Herbert Hoover (-5.65%), Andrew Johnson (-0.70%), and Theodore Roosevelt (1.41%).”

Despite Efforts, Results Are Poor

These poor results come despite Obama’s use of costly public sector intervention to boost the economy. He passed an $830 billion stimulus package and expanded the money supply, and interest rates remained near zero. Some are now talking about a fourth round of quantitative easing, and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has raised in passing the prospect of imposing negative interest rates.

But the average American has not benefited from Obama’s policies. Despite a few years of modest growth, real income fell, and kept falling, even after the Great Recession ended. The most recent Census Bureau figures show the median income declined by 1.5 percent to $53,657 in 2014.

The number of Americans in poverty rose by 1.4 million in 2014, the last year for which data are available. But the Census Bureau noted it was “the fourth consecutive year [that] the number of people in poverty at the national level was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimates.”

Agresti cites numerous reasons for this, including the implosion of the American family.

The Chronically Long-Term Unemployed

In an influential 2011 report, Census Bureau officials Gordon W. Green Jr. and John F. Coder explained that another factor responsible for declining incomes is the fact that Americans now spend more time on unemployment than at any time in history.

While Obama and congressional Democrats extended the maximum to 99 weeks for some workers, the average length of time jobless workers collected unemployment peaked at 39.4 weeks in 2012. Though this has since declined to 28.4 weeks, it is still far above the historic average.

In September 1982, the average unemployed worker stayed on the rolls 16.6 weeks — nearly a full three months less than today.

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