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PolitiFact: 'Great Recession' was worst for job losses

The statement

"We lost more jobs in this great recession than the last four recessions combined."

Columnist George Will, in a roundtable segment on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour

The ruling

We turned to two sources. One is the National Bureau of Economic Research, an independent group of economists that is the de facto arbiter of when recessions begin and end. The other is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that calculates all manner of employment figures.

Below we list the last five recessions as declared by the NBER, along with the difference in U.S. nonfarm employment levels between the official start of the recession and the official end:

Jan. 1980 to July 1980: 968,000 jobs lost

July 1981 to Nov. 1982: 2,824,000 jobs lost

July 1990 to March 1991: 1,249,000 jobs lost

March 2001 to Nov. 2001: 1,599,000 jobs lost

Total jobs lost in the four prior recessions: 6,640,000

"Great Recession" — Dec. 2007 to June 2009: 7,490,000 jobs lost

So the numbers show that Will is right — about 850,000 more jobs were lost during the great recession than in the previous four recessions combined.

We wondered, though, whether the result would be different if we factored in the size of the labor force, which has grown over the past three decades. It's impossible to make the same exact comparison Will did — that is, comparing the sum of the past four recessions with the current one — because you can't simply add together percentages drawn from different time periods. But we thought we'd at least see whether the 2007-2009 recession registered more jobs lost on a percentage basis than any of the prior ones.

Here are the numbers for jobs lost as a percentage of the labor force:

Jan. 1980 to July 1980: 1.0 percent

July 1981 to Nov. 1982: 3.1 percent

July 1990 to March 1991: 1.1 percent

March 2001 to Nov. 2001: 1.2 percent

"Great Recession" — Dec. 2007 to June 2009: Recession decreased jobs by 5.4 percent

So job losses in the "Great Recession" have, on a percentage basis, exceeded those in each of the past four recessions. We rate it True.

For more rulings, go to

PolitiFact: 'Great Recession' was worst for job losses 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:08pm]
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