Trump vs. Obama: Who was better for Florida’s economy?

Jobs, wages and economic output — here’s the tally.
Donald Trump and Barack Obama meet Nov. 10, 2016 in the Oval Office.
Donald Trump and Barack Obama meet Nov. 10, 2016 in the Oval Office.
Published Feb. 11, 2020

It’s an election year, so get ready for an onslaught of economic comparisons. The numbers will get sliced and diced in dizzying ways.

Most of the recent comparisons I’ve come across look at national indicators like job creation, and many use the time-honored form of comparing President Trump to his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The analyses got me wondering how the two presidents match up in Florida. In other words, how did some of the state’s major economic indicators like the unemployment rate fare under Trump versus Obama?

Related: Why is car insurance so expensive in Florida?

First, the caveats. Presidents often get too much credit for the economy, in good times and in bad. They don’t have as much influence as we often think, even if politics blinds us to that reality. Plus, comparing presidents who served during different years in the same economic cycle is tricky.

Drawbacks aside, the comparison is intriguing, if only for the similarities.

Many of Florida’s economic indicators are up to date as of December, so I looked at the last 35 months of Obama’s tenure, compared to the initial 35 months for Trump, whose first full month in the White House was February 2017.

Starting with jobs, the unemployment rate dropped from 6.6 percent to 4.6 percent during Obama’s final 35 months. Under Trump, it fell from 4.4 percent to 3 percent, a slower rate, though that’s expected 10 years into an economic expansion.

The Obama months netted Florida 619,564 new jobs, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tally for Trump was nearly 624,000.

Put another way: an average of 17,700 new jobs were created per month under Obama; 17,822 under Trump. It’s hard to get much closer.

That said, creating new jobs can get difficult late in an economic expansion, as most people who want a job already have one. Adding more can require attracting people who weren’t looking for a job back into the labor force. It’s one of the “tricky” factors I alluded to earlier about making these kinds of comparisons.

The state’s overall economic output — measured by gross state product — rose 17.25 percent under Obama during his final 35 months. For Trump? Up about 17.4 to 17.9 percent, depending on how the last three months of 2019 shake out, which we won’t know for a couple of months.

Slow wage growth has been a recurring theme over the past few years. Wages picked up a bit, but remain a sore point, especially for middle-income workers.

The state’s average hourly pay increased from $22.13 to $23.85 in Obama’s final 35 months, a 7.8 percent increase. The hourly wage reached $26.13 in December, a 9.6 percent increase under Trump.

But include inflation, and the Obama months come out slightly ahead with a 4.9 percent increase compared to 4.6 percent for Trump.

Average weekly earnings look about the same, with the increase during Obama’s tenure coming in slightly ahead of Trump’s first 35 months.

These types of comparisons should be used in moderation. They are far from the most precise ammunition for making a political point, though that won’t stop partisans from both sides of the aisle.

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