By Jennifer Granholm, POLITICO
I delivered the faculty graduation address last weekend at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. It’s one of the nation’s best and the reason is its emphasis on rigorous data analysis. Any public policy wonk worth her salt must be focused on data in order to replicate policy successes.
So if we all agree that the nation’s biggest problem is a lack of jobs, we should entrust a respected nonpartisan policy source to examine the economic data, right? The policy analysis should review which laboratory was most successful in creating jobs over a sustained period.
And then we should emulate those policies, right?
If Republican tax cuts create more jobs than Democratic investment, by all means let’s cut taxes! If Republican financial deregulation creates more jobs than Democratic consumer protection, then go ahead, deregulate away!
Which is exactly why the data from Bloomberg’s BGOV Barometer last week will shock many people. Bloomberg studied the past 50 years of U.S. job creation, under Democratic and Republican presidents. The facts: For the near half-century following the Kennedy administration, Democrats created nearly twice as many private-sector jobs as Republicans. Even though Democrats held the presidency for only 23 years compared with 28 years of Republican rule.
Private-sector payrolls increased by 42 million jobs under Democratic administrations, and 24 million under Republican ones. That’s an average of 150,000 new paychecks a month under Democrats and 71,000 per month under Republicans.
Let’s look at some other indicators. How about investing in the stock market? Again, Bloomberg analyzed the data. Investing $1,000 in a hypothetical fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the past 50 years would have returned $10,920 when Democrats held the White House. The return when Republicans were in power? $2,087.
Annualized returns were 11 percent for the Democrats, 2.7 percent for the Republicans. What about gross domestic product growth? Through 2008, real GDP grew faster under Democratic administrations — 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent for the GOP.
Income growth? Under Democrats, the real median income over the past 50 years grew at 2.2 percent. Republicans? 0.6 percent.
Number of Americans in poverty? By now you see the pattern. The poverty rate declined under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent by 1970.
A more recent example compares Bill Clinton with George W. Bush. Under Clinton, Americans living in poverty decreased by nearly 20 percent. Under Bush, this number rose by 21 percent.
When President Barack Obama took office, he inherited an economy that was losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month. As of April, private-sector jobs have now recovered to the number we had when he started. That’s 4.2 million jobs in the past 26 months.
So why the high unemployment rate? Largely because of public-sector job cuts — most in states that saw new GOP governors and legislatures elected in 2010 slash budgets for teachers, public safety and other service functions. Without these cuts, the Labor Department estimates our unemployment rate would be at 7.1 percent. Not the 8.1 percent it’s at now.
Under Bush, we experienced the most tepid job growth in eight decades — a dismal 2 percent over his two terms. When Mitt Romney says that Obama “isn’t working,” he neglects to mention that the Romney economic policies — more tax cuts, more deregulation, more cuts to government, the typical policy positions of the GOP for the past 50 years — have been described as “Bush on steroids.” What part of that suggests that Romney’s solutions would fare any better?
I can hear the right’s reaction now: The Bloomberg studies are too broad! Or the Labor Department numbers are too narrow! Bloomberg needs to account for geopolitical events! Whatever.
Believe me, I understand one’s gut desire to defend one’s party — even in the face of bad facts. Been guilty of it myself.
Eventually, however, individual excuses wear thin when you put together all the objective evidence. Concentrating wealth in the hands of the few and deregulating financial institutions and practices lead to speculative bubbles that eventually burst — and that brings the whole country down.
“In God we trust,” one often repeated maxim says, “all others bring data.” It’s too bad data often have no bearing on which policies get proposed or adopted. I hope that future public policy students don’t throw their hands up in dismay as they witness reflexive dismissal of jobs data from many on the far right.
Or maybe they should just become accountants — at least numbers don’t lie.