4 economists evaluate Obama’s economic legacy

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US President Barack Obama shakes hands with workers as they perform work on an engine during a tour of the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, Michigan, December 10, 2012, prior to speaking on the economy and fiscal cliff negotiations. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with workers as they perform work on an engine during a tour of the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, Michigan, on Dec. 10, 2012. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama was in office for less than a month when the February 2009 jobs report reported some brutal news: The U.S. economy had lost a whopping 598,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent.

Officially, the Great Recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. At its depths, the unemployment rate hit 10 percent.

Fast forward, and today, the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. In December, the U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs, and our Solman Scale U7, a comprehensive measure of unemployment and underemployment, hit a low of 11.3 percent

Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down with four economists to discuss President Obama’s economic legacy. For more, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour. Here’s a sneak peak at what Glenn Hubbard, Cecilia Rouse, Alan Krueger and Darrick Hamilton have to say:

Glenn Hubbard

Former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers

“When President Obama took office, the nation was in an economic crisis that it hadn’t seen since the Great Depression. And the administration did try, in some ways that worked, other ways I think worked less well, to address that crisis. Over time, I think the record is much more mixed with a continued highly regulatory approach that I think has slowed U.S. economic growth. So I think at the beginning there was a lot of effort, although maybe some misplaced, and over time, it was much more checkered.”

Cecilia Rouse

Member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers

“What President Obama did was he rescued an economy that was in free fall. And I think he saved us from a Great Depression. Obviously, we would love for economic growth to have been more robust in the years since, but I think it has been a success! We’ve seen continued growth, and I think many of the headwinds on growth were there before and are not just due to Obama’s policies. So for example, productivity growth, which is key to economic growth, was starting to slow down in 2005, which is well before Obama took office. So I actually think the record is very good and that we’ll look back and say it was largely a success.”

Alan Krueger

Former Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers

“President Obama came to office with the economy collapsing. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Within six months, because of the actions of the administration, the Congress and the Fed, the recession came to an end, and we started a modest recovery. Since job growth started in early 2010, we’ve added over 15 million jobs. That’s considerably more than we saw in the last recovery. That’s in spite of the fact that many of the tools that President Obama requested to help strengthen the recovery, like investing more in infrastructure or raising the minimum wage, Congress refused to act on. So I think history will look back at this time and say that the president did a remarkable job in the midst of great difficulty for the economy.”

Darrick Hamilton

President of the National Economic Association

“I’d say it was a missed opportunity. He certainly faced a catastrophe when he came into office, but nothing fundamentally changed the trajectory towards inequality. I think we had an opportunity to come up with a different structure, so that we could build more inclusive economies with really good jobs for the lot of all Americans. We still have a scenario where the unemployment rate for black Americans is double that of white Americans. If we characterize an economy as being in a catastrophe with unemployment rates greater than 8 percent, well then, the black unemployment rate is still above 8 percent. So frankly, black Americans are still in a Great Depression or a Great Recession, at the very least.”

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