When President Barack Obama leaves office, one of the greatest economic achievements of his presidency—at least according to his own administration—will be having presided over what is now the longest stretch of job creation on record. There are, of course, some caveats, but at more than 73 months, the streak surpasses earlier periods from the 1980s and 1990s. But this isn’t entirely a good thing.
Part of the reason the upward climb has stretched on for so long is just that the low-point—the recession—was so low. From the nadir of the Great Recession, employment took longer to hit its pre-recession peak than it did during any of the last three economic recoveries: 11 months after the recession of the early 1980s, 23 months after the one in the 1990s, 39 months in the early aughts, and a lengthy 51 months following the Great Recession, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
And while the economy has added jobs, every month, for a really long time, most of the time those gains—compared to monthly gains during previous post-recession periods—were middling, rarely spiking above 300,000. The result was a prolonged period of very high unemployment that is strikingly different than the rapid improvement in unemployment seen after the recession of the 1980s, which many say is the most comparable recession in recent decades. Michael Madowitz, an economist at the left-leaning Center for American Progress describes it like this: The recession of the 1990s was like a bad cold. The 1980s downturn was like the flu. But the Great Recession was like pneumonia. “Now, things look really good,” he says. “But it has also been this really long slog.”