Obama's numbers, April update
Our latest update shows corporations and stockholders still prospering under Barack Obama’s presidency, while the economy steadily adds more jobs and millions sign up for health insurance under Obamacare.
But wages remain stagnant for those who have jobs, and there are still 3.7 million who have been jobless for six months or more.
U.S. oil production is booming and dependence on oil imports is plunging. But the national debt has now almost exactly doubled under this president, and historically large deficits continue.
This report follows our January 2014 update and previous quarterly reports dating back to our first “Obama’s Numbers” article in October 2012. All figures here reflect the most recent available as of April 10.
Affordable Care Act
Now that the major provisions of “Obamacare” have gone into effect, and the official enrollment period for obtaining private health insurance through the new exchanges has ended, some more or less solid numbers are starting to come in.
According to outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 7.5 million people had signed up for privately issued policies through the exchanges by the April 1 deadline. And that number exceeded what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had originally projected, despite all the early problems with the administration’s HealthCare.gov website.
In addition, the administration issued a report stating that 3 million other individuals had signed up for government-issued insurance either through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That number is as of February, and so is expected to grow in coming months. There is no deadline for signing up for either Medicaid or CHIP.
Most if not all of the Medicaid/CHIP growth is due to the new law. Enrollment grew by 8.3 percent in states that had expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA to include people higher up the income scale. But even in states that have not expanded eligibility rules, the report found growth of 1.6 percent. Much of that is thought to be due to people who had been eligible for Medicaid or CHIP all along finally signing up to avoid paying the law’s penalty tax for going without coverage. Some call it the “woodwork effect” of the ACA — bringing eligible people “out of the woodwork” to sign up.
The exact total of people who have gained new coverage because of Obamacare isn’t known. An April 8 report by the RAND Corp., based on a nationwide poll, estimated that there had been a net gain of 9.3 million newly insured “adults” as of mid-March, when the poll was being conducted. But that number would of course fail to count the last-minute surge of signups that took place after the poll, and says nothing about children who gained coverage when their parents signed up. The number also goes beyond exchange and Medicaid enrollment, and includes a significant gain in employer-sponsored insurance.
The survey has a large margin of error, plus or minus 3.5 million for the net gain of newly insured. That means there’s a high degree of confidence that the real number is between 5.8 million and 12.8 million.
Jobs & wages
The economy as of March had gained just under 4 million jobs since Obama took office. The unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent, which was 1.1 points lower than when he took office and 3.3 points lower than it was at its worst point during October 2009. Total employment now stands just 437,000 jobs short of the peak number reached a year before Obama became president, just as the great recession of 2007-2009 was beginning.
The numbers remain grim for those without jobs, however. The number of those who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks — the so-called long-term unemployed — has declined recently to a bit over 3.7 million, but is still 1 million higher than when Obama took office. The average number of weeks that the unemployed have been without work has also declined recently to 36 weeks, but that’s still 15.8 weeks more than the average for the month he entered the White House.
Even for those who are working, wages have barely kept up with the modest rates of inflation that have marked Obama’s tenure. Real average weekly wages — measured in constant dollars adjusted for inflation — in March were just 0.2 percent above where they were in January 2009.
Stocks & profits
The picture has grown much brighter for corporations and their stockholders. Pre-tax corporate profits set yet another record in the last three months of 2013, the most recent quarter on record. They were running at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.9 trillion, which is $1.2 trillion higher than in the recession-wracked final quarter of 2008, just before Obama took office.
That’s a gain of 184 percent during his presidency — and nearly half a trillion dollars (35 percent) higher than the record quarter (July – September quarter of 2006) before he took office.
Stockholders have been prospering also. Since the day Obama took office, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has more than doubled, rising by 128 percent as of the close of markets on April 10.The Dow Jones Industrial Average has also doubled, rising by 103 percent. And the NASDAQ Composite index has nearly tripled, rising by 181 percent.
Deficits & debt
The president is fond of saying he’s cut the federal deficit in half. That’s true as far as it goes. But it’s also a fact that the federal debt has just about exactly doubled since he took office.
The deficit — the yearly difference between federal spending and revenue — was $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009, was down to $680 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, and is projected to be $514 billion when the current fiscal year ends several months from now, according to figures released Feb. 4 by the CBO. But that’s still high by historical standards — equal to 3 percent of the nation’s projected economic output. It’s nearly double the 1.6 percent average deficit between World War II and fiscal 2009.
As a result of all this deficit spending, the total debt that the federal government owes to the public has gone up 99.8 percent since the day Obama entered office, rising to $12.6 trillion.
The total debt — counting money the government owes to itself through the Social Security and other trust funds — has now reached $17.6 trillion, an increase of 65 percent. But it’s the debt owed to the public that economists consider more relevant.
The debt figures alarm budget experts. The CBO’s most recent budget outlook estimated the debt owed to the public would equal 74 percent of GDP by the end of the current fiscal year, and will rise to 79 percent in 2024 under current spending and tax laws. “Such large and growing federal debt could have serious negative consequences,” CBO stated. The continuing deficits and high interest payments could slow down economic growth and even increase the risk of another economic crisis, CBO said.
The number of people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) has been declining as the economy improves and Congress enacts spending cuts. It hit a record high of nearly 47.8 million people in December 2012 and has gone down by about 1.3 million since then. Nevertheless, the total for January stood at 46.5 million, which is an increase of 45.5 percent compared with the month Obama became president.
Gasoline, oil & mileage
Gasoline prices have remained in check for the recent portion of Obama’s tenure as president. The national average price for regular gasoline at the pump has fluctuated since the start of 2011 between $3.07 and $3.97 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It was $3.60 during the week ending April 7.
And while that most recent price is 95 percent higher than what it was when he took office — when it was unusually depressed as a result of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s — it is well below the record of $4.11 set in July 2008.
One reason prices haven’t gone higher is the continuing boom in U.S. oil production, which is up 62 percent during Obama’s tenure, comparing the EIA’s figures for the first three months of 2014 with the final full quarter of 2008, just before Obama entered the White House. Mirroring that figure, U.S. imports of oil from abroad have gone down 52 percent during the same period.
The year before Obama took office, EIA figures show the U.S. imported 57 percent of the oil it consumed. During the first two months of this year, that figure was down to 28.5 percent and dropping fast.
A related factor is improving automobile fuel efficiency. As of March, the average “sticker” mileage of new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. was 25.4 miles per gallon, an increase of 21 percent since January 2009, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
Wind & solar
Wind and solar power have more than tripled during Obama’s presidency. Since he first took office, the amount of electricity produced from these two renewable sources has increased by 221 percent, comparing the most recent 12-month average from the EIA with the totals for 2008. The amount produced by windmills is nearly 20 times larger than the amount produced by solar methods, but solar power is increasing more rapidly, having grown more than ten-fold since 2008.
Still, wind and solar taken together account for only 4.4 percent of all U.S. electrical generation, up from 1.4 percent in 2008.
In his 2010 State of the Union address the president vowed to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. But that’s not happening.
As the most recent figures available from the U.S. Commerce Department show, seasonally adjusted exports of goods and services have increased just 36 percent, comparing the last three months of 2008 with the last quarter of 2013.
Home ownership & housing starts
Thanks partly to a wave of foreclosures that followed the collapse of the housing bubble, fewer Americans now own their homes than did when Obama took office. The home ownership rate, which had already begun to decline during the Bush administration, fell to a seasonally adjusted 65.1 percent in the last three months of 2013, according to Census Bureau figures. That’s 2.4 percentage points lower than it was in the quarter before the Obama presidency began, and 4.3 percentage points below the high-water mark of home ownership set in the second quarter of 2004, when 69.4 percent of Americans lived in their own homes.
To be sure, housing starts are up. The number of new privately owned housing units begun in February, the most recent period for which the Census Bureau has reported, was 85 percent higher than it was in the recession month of January 2009, measured as a seasonally adjusted annual rate. But that hardly represents a housing boom. The rate is still less than 40 percent of what it was during January 2006, the best month of the Bush administration.
Nothing has changed since our last report at the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. There are still 155 prisoners, which the Pentagon prefers to call “detainees.” That’s a reduction of just 36 percent from the 242 who were being held when Obama took office — despite an order Obama signed two days into his presidency directing that the detention facility be closed within one year.
And the war in Afghanistan grinds on. According to official Pentagon figures, the U.S. has suffered a total of 1,686 military fatalities since 2008 in Operation Enduring Freedom.