America is preparing for life under President Donald Trump. So far, we don’t really know what to expect — things may go well for some, and become much more difficult for others. But he does have some things going for him. With President Obama leaving office after two terms, Trump is inheriting a country that’s in relatively decent shape. Obama, on the other hand, came in during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
As you’ve likely read, many people have yet to see any gains from the recovery. This is one of the reasons that Trump was able to win the White House, despite a scandal-free and largely constructive eight years with Obama at the helm. We’re better off than we were in 2009 — but the fact is, we were in such dire straits when Obama entered the White House that he had almost nowhere to go but up.
For that reason, you’re likely to find two competing narratives regarding the Obama years. One, that he was able to put the fires out and restore America’s economy. Or two, that his administration’s policies have stunted America’s growth, and that’s the reason we’re seeing record inequality and so many millions struggling. The truth, as with almost everything, lies somewhere in between.
But what do the numbers tell us? By looking at data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more, we pulled ten specific economy-related figures to get an idea of the state of the country with Obama on his way out.
Here are 10 things you can either thank or blame Obama for as the Trump administration takes over.
Obama will leave office with the unemployment rate under 5% — a notable accomplishment considering that it peaked at 10% during his first year in office. As of January 2017, the rate is 4.7%. This is very close to what economists call “full employment,” and it paints a rosy economic picture. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, necessarily, as the official unemployment rate only counts workers who have looked for work in the relatively recent past.
The official unemployment rate gives us an idea as to what the temperature of the labor force is. The labor force participation rate gives us a bit more context. As Obama exits, the labor force participation rate is 62.7% — meaning that is the percentage of the population that is employed. Of course, this counts retired people, children, and students, so there are a few caveats to take into account.
As NPR reports, this number isn’t all that great, and is something Trump and others have dinged Obama for over the past few years. “That figure was at 65.7 percent in January 2009, at the start of Obama’s presidency, and today is at 62.7 percent — a steep drop. And today, the figure is well below its 2000 high of 67.3 percent.”
More percentages — and this time, it has to do with wage growth. Under Obama, average weekly earnings for all workers is up roughly 4% (as of November 2016). That’s a figure that’s adjusted for inflation and seasonal factors, too. Inflation over that time has eroded that to some degree, however.
This is the number of continuous months of job growth. An impressive number by any measure, and a record to boot. All told, that adds up to 11.3 million jobs created over the past eight years. But even that pales in comparison to the nearly 23 million created under Clinton in the ’90s. It’s also fewer than the 16 million created under the Reagan administration in the ’80s.
Between 2011 and 2014, entrepreneurship rates declined rapidly. Census Bureau data (and a FiveThirtyEight analysis) shows that there were 27% fewer businesses started during that period than before. There are a lot of factors that play into this trend, but overall, business dynamism has been on the decline for a while.
6. $438.9 billion
Though Obama has managed to shrink the federal budget deficit, there’s still a large rift. According to Treasury Department figures, 2015 saw a $439 billion shortfall. The deficit has shrunk during Obama’s time in office, but projections have it bouncing back up again over the next several years.
7. $14.4 trillion
A perpetual budget deficit means bad news for the national debt. As of January 2017, the debt held by the public is $14.4 trillion. That’s a number that has more than doubled under Obama’s watch.
Health care was one of Obama’s main focuses. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, hopes were that the number of uninsured people would drop and that prices would come down. Unfortunately, it’s been a mixed bag of successes and failures. More people do have insurance, but costs haven’t normalized. A report released by Kaiser/HRET Employer Health Benefits recently said that the average annual health plan for a family costs roughly $18,000.
$56,500 was the median household income in 2015. This was a huge jump from previous years and represented a pretty big win for Obama’s legacy. When announced, this figure was pointed to as proof that the economic recovery had finally kicked in and that those in the lower and middle classes were seeing gains. It’s a figure that’s still below peaks in the late 1990s and before the Great Recession, however.
During his presidency, Obama issued more than 250 executive orders — the fewest number since George H.W. Bush. Of those executive orders, 27 related directly to the workplace. Some increased pay for certain workers and others had to do with overtime pay and discrimination rules. You may or may not have been affected by these orders, and they’re all subject to repeal by the next administration.