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Trump's First 100 Days: Too Soon To Claim Big Job Gains?

President Trump addresses a crowd at Boeing's facilities in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 17.
Sean Rayford
Getty Images
President Trump addresses a crowd at Boeing's facilities in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 17.

President Trump has said over and over that creating jobs is at the top of his agenda. It may seem unfair to judge his progress on this goal in his first 100 days, but Trump has opened the door to scrutiny by making his own assertions on job creation.

During a White House meeting with CEOs on April 11, Trump claimed his administration had already created over 600,000 jobs.

"You see what's going on. You see the numbers," he said. "We've created over 600,000 jobs already in a very short period of time, and it's going to really start catching on now because some of the things that we've done are big league and they are catching on."

Since the beginning of the year, the Labor Department says, the U.S. has created 533,000 jobs. Of course, Trump only took office on Jan. 20, and the January numbers are generally attributed to the outgoing president, because the new president hasn't had a chance to put his policies in place.

So, at most Trump could take credit for 219,000 jobs in February and 98,000 in March. That's a total of about 317,000 — about half his original claim. (The White House website now touts "over 500,000 new jobs.")

And there's a good argument to be made that presidents shouldn't take credit for a role in job creation until well into their first term, after they've had a chance to influence the course of events with policies or leadership. Trump has announced a number of executive actions that he says will help create U.S. jobs, but so far the effect of those actions has been minimal.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and top economic adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, points out that Trump inherited an economy near full employment.

"That's a very different world than his predecessor Barack Obama entered," says Holtz-Eakin. Obama faced "hundreds of thousands of jobs lost every month," and so "a lot of job creation needed to be done." Obama managed to get a big stimulus package through Congress, along with taking additional action to rescue automakers during his first 100 days.

But, Holtz-Eakin says, "the task is different now." Trump's job is not faster job creation, but switching the focus to boosting the productivity of workers, which could support higher wages and make incomes grow more rapidly, Holtz-Eakin says. That will require passing complex plans like business tax reform and health care legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Holtz-Eakin says it remains to be seen whether Trump and the Congress can achieve those goals.

What about Trump's flurry of activity during the presidential transition — after he was elected but before he took office? Trump has made a big deal of twisting corporate arms to save U.S. jobs at automakers and companies like Carrier.

In the case of Carrier, about 800 jobs were preserved in one factory. Trump was especially vocal, taking credit for car company announcements that they were expanding factories and adding thousands of workers. However, most of the companies said the expansions were in the works before Trump was elected. Holtz-Eakin says the "direct impacts [of Trump's arm-twisting] were modest."

But Holtz-Eakin does believe Trump's election may have boosted confidence enough at some businesses that they added jobs anticipating a stronger economy and stronger demand for their goods and services. He says the quick rollback of a number of Obama-era regulations also likely boosted the spirits in the business community and led to more hiring. But, Holtz-Eakin says, there's still no hard evidence to back that up.

And, he says, a 100-day report card on job creation really tells us very little about what long-term impact a president will have.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.