Infographic of the Day: Obama Says "I Inherited This Mess" With a Chart [WITH WAR OF THE INFOGRAPHICS UPDATE!]

A chart marking the first anniversary of the stimulus package makes a case for the Obama administration's effectiveness at saving jobs.

Obama Stimulus

It was exactly one year ago today that Barack Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus package, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, into law. With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, the White House continues to battle public perception and Republican attacks that the stimulus plan has been ineffective in creating jobs, and it just released a report reiterating claims it made last month that 2 million jobs have been saved or created.

Sometimes, however, a strong, simple infographic says more than words can. This nearly symmetrical, V-shaped chart (full size here) offers a powerful story about job losses which accelerated rapidly during the final year that George W. Bush held office and then slowed just as rapidly since the stimulus plan went into effect. In last month's State of the Union, Obama was explicit in saying, "I inherited this mess." The chart offers a visual reminder of how deep a hole we were in—nearly three-quarters of a million jobs lost a month when ARRA became law—and how far the country has come along the steep path to recovery since then. Whether the American people can be convinced remains to be seen, but graphics like this can only help make the case.

[UPDATED: 2/19]

Since first releasing this easy-to-understand infographic, the Obama administration has sent out a video explaining it, perhaps for the chart-challenged among us. Meanwhile, political science professor Charles Franklin has released a second infographic that presents the same data in a different way and elicits a different reaction; in the interests of fairness and objectivity, we bring you that one too.

Rather than presenting job losses periodically, showing only the number of jobs lost each month, this one (full size here) shows them cumulatively, so that each month depicts total losses since the job market went sour. Instead of a V-shape, the story of jobs during Bush's last year and Obama's first becomes an inverted S. Here, it appears less that the Obama administration has dug us out of a "hole" and led us along the "steep path of recovery," to use my own language above, and more that it has succeeded in stopping the bleeding and slowing the rate of attrition.

But while the narrative the Obama graphic puts forth may be slightly deceptive, so too is Franklin's graphic—as he himself acknowledges—by making it appear that more jobs have been lost under Obama when in fact just the opposite is true. Taken together, these two charts, each with the same data but different biases in presenting that data, serve as a testament to the slipperiness and persuasive power of the infographic.

Add New Comment

24 Comments

  • John Farrier

    In his update, Jesse Ashlock wrote:

    "Instead of a V-shape, the story of jobs during Bush's last year and Obama's first becomes an inverted S. Here, it appears less that the Obama administration has dug us out of a "hole" and led us along the "steep path of recovery," to use my own language above, and more that it has succeeded in stopping the bleeding and slowing the rate of attrition."

    Except that even using Obama's own projections, we're worse off now after we've passed the stimulus package than we would have been had we not done so. Again, the damning chart:

    http://michaelscomments.files....

    If anything, the unemployment rate is evidence that the stimulus package made things worse, not better.

  • John Farrier

    Bobby Segars wrote:

    "Greg, you're absolutely right. It is we in the private sector that will be the ones to turn things around. BTW, your friend's project was not funded by the Obama administration. It was funded by you and me and all future taxpayers."

    Precisely. Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations injected money into a struggling economy. They simply took money away from the politically disconnected and gave it to the politically connected. It may stimulate the receiving parties, but only by depressing the contributing parties.

  • John Farrier

    JC wrote:

    "John: Slowing the rate of job loss is the first sign of progress to lowering unemployment. Your last claim is disingenuous."

    Given that unemployment is now much higher, by Obama's projections, than it would have been had Congress not passed the stimulus package, I'd say not.

  • John Sims

    I like the swimming pool analogy. The only part that's missing is that a leaky bucket is used to transport the water from the deep end to the shallow end. Government is inherently inefficient in "spreading the wealth around", and the act of spreading also consumes the wealth. Keep it up long enough and the pool is dry.

  • Chris Reich

    The comments following my comment make my point. Cooperation does not mean supporting a cause you don't agree with. But let's examine what happened.

    The economy went into fast decline. Something had to be done. The Democrats went to their corner, the Republicans theirs. We need to work as those oft referenced founders did at the Constitutional Convention. In spite of major differences, they worked out mutually agreeable solutions. Agreement requires compromise and the compromise will mitigate the damage any misguided program will do while still allowing benefit. The two parties work for control to eliminate the need to work with the other party. But that very modis cuts the representation of many citizens out of the picture.

    The strongly anti-Obama crowd also want to take back the country from socialism but they ignore the millions who agree with Omama's policies. Is that democracy?

    Again I assert, the country will slide into second rank status unless we can all cooperate toward the goals of the home team.

    There is a serious danger to this sort of divisive climate. It creates the ideal circumstance for the election of a dictator. The trend has been building over the past 10 years as we have now elected three consecutive Presidents based mostly on perceived charisma. Bill seduced us, George was "the guy we'd like to have a beer with" and Obama was new dawn of hope and change. But the substance is not there.

    Want to test this theory? Make note of Sarah Palin's popularity and the growing Tea Party movement. If the strength goes out of either, then we'll see hope and change.

    Let's stop bickering. This article demonstrates what is really wrong with the country. Does the graphic matter? Won't people believe what they want to believe?

    Businesses do exactly the same thing: waste time on meaningless analysis. We know unemployment is too high right now. Let's fix that. Stop wasting my time with "info graphics" and get the unemployment rate down to 5%. Period.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • james FC

    oh yeah, one fact concerning the lack of "cooperation":

    According to reports, Democratic leaders are working to unveil the final health care proposal online Monday, Feb. 21st - just prior to President Obama's Feb. 25th summit with the other side of the aisle.

    Instead of STARTING with the summit and sitting members of both parties down to establish common ground in the health care debate in the true spirit of an actual summit, reportedly this proposal will be designed to win passage WITHOUT any Republican support.

    Despite the public outcry against government takeover of health care, despite the call for transparency, or any of the "change" that President Obama promised his own supporters on the campaign trail, he and Democratic leaders have demonstrated their preference for aggressive measures over true bipartisan, diplomatic negotiations.

    The Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will instead be handing Republican leaders a stack of papers on Feb. 25th, complete with a proverbial line in the sand, effectively shutting out the voice of a significant number of Americans who have already voiced their opposition to the Democrats' plans. You know, the ones who won't "cooperate"!

  • james FC

    Chris said:
    "Polarization instead of cooperation is going to strangle the United States and it won't be the fault of the government."

    Cooperation? If somebody comes to me and asks me for my money to give to people that I don't want to give it to, I'm supposed to cooperate???

    I donate more way more than average to charity, I'm involved with a couple community service organizations, etc.

    Why should I "cooperate" with anyone, especially a government agency that doesn't share my values, by by taking my money to give to causes, agencies, individuals or corporations that I don't support? Why has the current administration threatened to add the force of the IRS if we don't "cooperate"?

    For me to "cooperate", the cause must make sense to me.

    It's the same problem the president has. People don't support his bad ideas, therefore they are not cooperating?? It has little or nothing to do with partisanship or not cooperating (or with his skin color, regardless what Olbermann says). It has everything to do with opposition to bad ideas and policies!

  • Gary Cornelisse

    Bobby: Excellent analogy!

    Chris: The more our gov increases taxes, creates more regulations, injects artificial money into the economy, and sticks their fingers in our private businesses, the faster that "best environment" goes away.

    Regardless of party politics or who did what, one simple fact remains. Nearly all bureaucracy is absolutely horrible at doing almost anything efficiently. I work at a gov organization and the waste is disgusting. The best thing government can do is get out of the way, stop rewarding failure, and let people/business keep more of their money to spend consuming and building businesses. I made less than 50k last year as a sole proprietor business owner and nearly 40% of my income went to taxes. How is that good for the economy or fair to private business?

  • Bobby Segars

    Boris, nice work on the second chart. To make the cumulative data more "fair" you could keep the accumulated total of job losses during the Bush administration in red and then only additional jobs lost during Obama administration in blue. That is, the lines after January 09 would be red up to about 5 million and blue the rest of the way.

  • Bobby Segars

    Greg, you're absolutely right. It is we in the private sector that will be the ones to turn things around. BTW, your friend's project was not funded by the Obama administration. It was funded by you and me and all future taxpayers. We are not on the right track b/c government cannot stimulate economic growth. The reason is that government has no profit motive. One of the best analogies I've heard on the subject is that when the government spends it is like they are taking buckets of water out of the deep end of a pool and pouring it into the shallow end in an attempt to make the shallow end deeper. They can only take what someone else already has. Typically its through taxes but more insidiously they can also do it through inflation or deficit spending (i.e. accumulating debt).

    The private sector is the only way to a more sustainable economy b/c it operates with a profit motive. A profit means you sold something to someone who valued it more than the individual parts. In other words, you utilized your resources well. You improved efficiency. You made the entire pool bigger. So now there is more room for more people (i.e. higher employment). It will not be a quick fix for sure, but it is the only sustainable one.

  • Chris Reich

    My observation comes from the comments. While there is general disgust with lack of bi-partisanship in congress, it's worse in the population at large. I fear we've become too divided to solve big problems.

    We still have the biggest economy and best environment for business in the world. But the bickering and division goes all the way down to the office water cooler. Polarization instead of cooperation is going to strangle the United States and it won't be the fault of the government.

    We will determine who returns to congress in November. And once again, we will fail to remove incumbents. Beware. If any group can be split down the center it creates an opportunity a single person or group to control the fulcrum. That is dangerous.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Greg Robertson

    Since one of my clients was about to lay off three people before they received a sizable project funded by the Obama stimulus plan, this chart does not surprise me at all. And considering the recession began in '07 and Wall Street banks were collapsing BEFORE the November '08 election, these strident right wing attempts to paint today's high unemployment as an Obama outcome are just empty claptrap.

    When you put aside ideology and stick to the facts, like those depicted in this chart, it's clear that Obama has been following the right course. Besides, if I remember my free market handbook correctly, it's we in the private sector who should be doing more to turn this economy around. I hired 7 people last year. Maybe if we all did less whining and a little more work, we wouldn't need to argue about who has the best charts.

  • Bobby Segars

    Am I the only one who thinks the blue should really start in Nov? Remember 48 million americans did not vote for Obama and I would argue the majority of them realized that his brand of change would be destructive to the economic engine of our country. If they were like me, they voted for McCain as the lesser of two evils. Therefore like Scott said, they began trimming the fat and cutting excess before the inevitible swearing in that occurred in Jan.

  • scott warner

    First: though I'm not in favor of Bush's infusion of "our" money into the economy, it probably has more of an effect on the Obama portion of this infographic than Obama's stimulus.
    Second: an economy such as ours in the US has a certain level of "fat" at all times in the job force and what we see in this graphic is a slowing of the trimming of the fat. Large corporations realize that they can operate with far fewer employees... and many of the mediocre-to-poor ideas trying to get off the ground as new businesses fall away in this economic climate. Consider the "fat" trimmed. We're seeing a stabilizing at about 10% unemployment for the time being.
    Third: Fast Company... who in the Obama Admin is paying your bills?? This, and many other stories, are ridiculously raw-raw for Obama and are pretty irresponsible in their approach.

  • james FC

    what a great program! Give away $787,000,000,000 to "save" or create 2,000,000 jobs. Like anybody would accurately know how many jobs have been saved!

    Basic math tells it "only "cost us taxpayers $398,500 per job saved/created!!! What a great use of taxpayer money !

    With any more "successes" like this, it's no wonder we're going broke!

  • J C

    John: Slowing the rate of job loss is the first sign of progress to lowering unemployment. Your last claim is disingenuous.

  • J C

    John: Slowing the rate of job loss is the first sign of progress to lowering unemployment. Your last claim is disingenuous.