On the August 31 edition of FOX News Channel's Your World w/ Neil Cavuto, conservative author, TV personality, and former Nixon adviser Ben Stein attempted to compare the current state of the economy with the economy during then-president Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign. Stein claimed: “Really, to be fair to Mr. [George W.] Bush, all the data about the economy is stronger than it was in 1996.”
While it's unclear why Stein would compare the current economy to the economy five years before Bush took office, rather than to the economy when Bush took office in January 2001, his statement is nevertheless false. As Media Matters for America has noted, the rate of wage and income growth are lower now than in the same period in 1996.
Most egregiously, Stein touted a deceptive statistic to support his dubious comparison, claiming that “the number of people employed [today] is far, far greater than it was in 1996.” Though true, this claim is grossly misleading. Normal population and economic growth ensures that the total number of people employed will increase over any given eight-year period, except in the case of a catastrophic depression. The significant measure of the availability of jobs is the labor force participation rate. Data from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the July 2004 rate was 66.2 percent, compared with 66.9 percent in July 1996. This difference suggests that jobs are actually more difficult to find in the present economy than in 1996.