Over the past several months, President Obama has spent much time pleading for patience on the sluggish economy and ongoing high unemployment, arguing that the economic hole was so deep and the crisis so monumental that a slow recovery — now in its 30th month — was inevitable.
But in making his case, Obama appears to be perpetuating several myths about the recession he inherited and the slow recovery over which he’s presided. Among them:
1) The recession was unexpectedly severe. “I think we understood that it was bad, but we didn’t know how bad it was,” Obama said recently in an interview with a Seattle radio station.
However, several economists had been warning late in 2008 about the severity of the crisis. A January 2009 National Association of Business Economics survey found the “worst business conditions since the survey began in 1982,” which was during that deep and prolonged recession.
2) The country had to dig out of a historically deep hole. Obama often explains the length of the recovery by noting how deep the recession had been.
But while the so-called Great Recession lasted 18 months and sent unemployment to 10.1%, the 1981-82 recession was comparable in length and severity. That one lasted 16 months, and pushed unemployment even higher, to 10.8%.
3) Everyone knew the recovery would take a long time. In his recent “60 Minutes” interview, Obama claimed that “I always believed that this was a long-term project,” and “that it was gonna take more than a year. It was gonna take more than two years. It was gonna take more than one term.”
But that’s not what Obama was saying shortly after he took office. In March 2009, for example, he proclaimed that things were “not as bad as we think they are now,” adding that “my long-term projections are highly optimistic.”
And his May 2009 budget update predicted the economy would be cooking by 2011, climbing 4% in real terms, with unemployment down to 7.1%. The White House downgraded its forecast later that year, but still pegged 2011 GDP growth at a healthy 3.8% and joblessness averaging 8.6%.