Fox Keeps Pushing Reagan Myth-Making About Unemployment

Attacking President Obama for not doing enough to lower the country's unemployment rate, Fox News' Greg Jarrett and Brenda Buttner insisted on Sunday that when faced with a similar type of economic crisis in his first term, Ronald Reagan turned around the country's job rate in just four years.

This false comparison has become a favorite Fox talking point.

BUTTNER: And Ronald Reagan in fact did in four years, took the unemployment rate way down. Bill Clinton said [at the DNC] nobody could do it in four years and he did.

JARRETT: Reagan did it. 10.8 percent down to 7 percent within four years, down to 5 percent thereafter.

Why can't Obama be more like Reagan, the Fox talkers asked.  Why can't Obama deflate the unemployment rate the way Reagan did during his first term?

But look at the numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. During Reagan's first full month in office, February 1981, the unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent. It then rose steadily and peaked at 10.8 percent in November 1982, before falling to 7.5 percent in August 1984, as he campaigned for re-election. (Jarrett's mention of “five percent” was in reference to unemployment at the very end of Reagan's second term.)

Obama? During his first full month in office, February 2009, unemployment stood at 8.3 percent, it peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and currently stands at 8.1 percent.

Note that unemployment right now is nearly identical to when Obama began his first term. And at this point in his presidency, the unemployment rate under Reagan was nearly identical to when he began his first term. So why is Fox pretending Reagan slayed unemployment in his first term when his record is nearly identical to Obama's?

In fact, left unmentioned on Fox yesterday was the fact that in the months prior to Reagan's first term, unemployment in America had been decreasing.

This was the rate trend for the election year of 1980:

Compare that to what Obama inherited. This was the unemployment rate trend for the election year for 2008:

And as Media Matters has pointed out in the past, the Reagan recovery was powered by a large increase in government spending and the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates; the latter solution is not currently available with rates already at zero.

Fox talkers lament that Obama isn't more like Reagan who heroically lowered the unemployment before seeking re-election, according to their telling. But the truth is, Obama's track record looks a lot like Reagan's, and in some ways, given the immediate jobs crisis Obama had to deal with, it's more impressive.