Public and Private Sector Payroll Jobs During Presidential Terms

by Calculated Risk on 2/11/2024 10:13:00 AM

Note: I used to post this monthly, but I stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve received a number of requests lately to post this again, so here is another update of tracking employment during Presidential terms.  We frequently use Presidential terms as time markers – we could use Speaker of the House, Fed Chair, or any other marker.

Important: There are many differences between these periods. Overall employment was smaller in the ’80s, however the participation rate was increasing in the ’80s (younger population and women joining the labor force), and the participation rate is generally declining now.  But these graphs give an overview of employment changes.

The first graph shows the change in private sector payroll jobs from when each president took office until the end of their term(s). Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush and Trump only served one term.

Mr. G.W. Bush (red) took office following the bursting of the stock market bubble and left during the bursting of the housing bubble. Mr. Obama (dark blue) took office during the financial crisis and great recession. There was also a significant recession in the early ’80s right after Mr. Reagan (dark red) took office.

There was a recession towards the end of President G.H.W. Bush (light purple) term, and Mr. Clinton (light blue) served for eight years without a recession.   And there was a pandemic related recession in 2020.

First, here is a table for private sector jobs. The top two previous private sector terms were both under President Clinton.  

Term Private Sector
Jobs Added (000s)
Biden 13,4811
Clinton 1 10,876
Clinton 2 10,094
Obama 2 9,926
Reagan 2 9,351
Carter 9,039
Reagan 1 5,363
Obama 1 1,907
GHW Bush 1,507
GW Bush 2 443
GW Bush 1 -820
Trump -2,192
1After 36 months.

Private Sector Payrolls Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph is for private employment only.

Private sector employment increased by 9,039,000 under President Carter (dashed green), by 14,714,000 under President Reagan (dark red), 1,507,000 under President G.H.W. Bush (light purple), 20,970,000 under President Clinton (light blue), lost 377,000 under President G.W. Bush, and gained 11,833,000 under President Obama (dark dashed blue).  During Trump’s term (Orange), the economy lost 2,135,000 private sector jobs.

In the first 36 months of President Biden’s term (Blue), the economy has added 13,481,000 private sector jobs, as the economy recovered from the pandemic.

Public Sector Payrolls A big difference between the presidencies has been public sector employment.  Note: the bumps in public sector employment due to the decennial Census in 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2020. 

The public sector grew during Mr. Carter’s term (up 1,304,000), during Mr. Reagan’s terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton’s terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush’s terms (up 1,744,000 jobs).  However, the public sector declined significantly while Mr. Obama was in office (down 263,000 jobs).  During Trump’s term, the economy lost 528,000 public sector jobs.

In the first 36 months of President Biden’s term, the economy has added 1,303,000 public sector jobs (about 93% of public job growth has been for state and local governments, and about 58% for education).

And a table for public sector jobs. Public sector jobs increased the most during Reagan’s 2nd term and declined the most during Obama’s first term.

Term Public Sector
Jobs Added (000s)
Reagan 2 1,438
Carter 1,304
Biden 1,3031
Clinton 2 1,242
GHW Bush 1,127
GW Bush 1 900
GW Bush 2 844
Clinton 1 692
Obama 2 447
Reagan 1 -24
Trump -528
Obama 1 -710
1After 36 months.