Which President Created the Most Jobs?
12 Presidents' Jobs Creation by Number and Percent
Which president created the most jobs? You must look at percentage as well as the total number of jobs generated to compare presidents over time. It's much easier to create lots of jobs today since the economy is bigger. For example, there were 157 million people working in December 2018. That's more than double the 47.6 million employed in 1929, the earliest year counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With that in mind, Bill Clinton created the most number of jobs during his two terms. He added 18.6 million, a 15.6 percent increase.
Franklin Roosevelt created the most percentage-wise with a 21.5 percent increase. During his term, he had to recover from the depths of the Great Depression. But, it's not fair to use that because he was in office for more than two terms. For a two-term president, the percentage winner was Ronald Reagan with a 16.5 percent increase.
A president's record at job creation depends somewhat on the business cycle. For example, those who inherited a recession, like Clinton, Obama, Reagan, Carter, and LBJ, did better at job creation. They started with a low base and so had nowhere to go but up. Those that created recessions, like both Bushes, Nixon, and Eisenhower, did the worst.
Presidents have many tools to create jobs. The most important tools are expansive fiscal policy, especially deficit spending. Government spending can employ people directly and through contracting. That will encourage the private sector to hire through greater demand from consumers. But all presidents must have Congressional budget approval before they can spend.
A president does have one unique tool as the leader of the free world. He can inspire confidence through a compelling vision. A president who can articulate a message that reverses doubt and pessimism will be successful in creating jobs.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Most Number of Jobs Created.
President Clinton added 18.6 million jobs. He was the top job creator in terms of total numbers. It was a 15.6 percent increase, the third-largest percentage increase. There were 137.6 million people employed in December 2000, the end of his term. There were 118.9 million employed at the beginning of his term.
Unlike most presidents, he did this through contractionary fiscal policy. He presided over eight years of steady economic growth without adding to the debt. He created a surplus, reducing the debt by $63 billion. His Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 raised the top tax rate from 28 percent to 36 percent for high-income earners. He increased the top corporate tax rate from 34 percent to 36 percent. He created the earned income tax credit for low-income families and raised the gas tax by $0.43 per gallon.
At the same time, he cut welfare spending. Recipients had to get jobs after two years. His policies cut the number on welfare by two-thirds, to 4.5 million, by 2004.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Largest Percent Increase.
President Roosevelt increased jobs by 21.5 percent, the largest percentage increase of all presidents. He added 9.5 million workers to the 38.9 million working at the start of his term. That made him the fourth-largest in sheer numbers. This was after he created the New Deal to end the Great Depression. FDR also built up the economy to enter World War II.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Second-Largest Job Creator, Job and Percentage-Wise
President Reagan added 16.5 million jobs during his eight-year term, a 16.5 percent increase. Reagan was the second-largest job creator both number-wise and percentage-wise. There were 116.1 million people working in December 1988 compared to 99.6 million in December 1980.
Reagan responded to the 1981 recession with Reaganomics. This was expansive fiscal policy based on supply-side economics. Reagan cut the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent. He also cut the top corporate tax rate from 48 percent to 34 percent. He increased government spending by 2.5 percent a year. His policies doubled the debt. To some extent, trickle-down economics worked as the tax rates at that time fell into the “Prohibitive Range” of the Laffer Curve.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): Fourth-largest Job Increase
President Jimmy Carter added 9.8 million jobs, a 10.9 percent increase. He did that by adding $299 billion to the $699 billion debt, a 43 percent increase.
Harry Truman (1945-1953): Fourth-largest Percent Increase
President Truman added 6.9 million jobs. The 13 percent increase was the fourth-largest among modern presidents. He added $7 billion to the debt to fight two recessions. The end of World War II caused the 1945 recession, which reappeared in 1949.
Barack Obama (2009-2017): Special Mention
President Obama created 8.9 million jobs by the end of December 2016, a 6.2 percent increase. There were 152.3 million people employed at the end of his term. That's compared to 143.4 million working at the end of the Bush administration.
But that doesn't give the total picture. The economy lost 8.5 million jobs as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. It kept shedding them until December 2009. Since that low point, Obama created 16 million jobs, a 11.6 percent increase. If measured that way, Obama was the third-largest job creator in terms of numbers.
Obama attacked the Great Recession with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It created jobs through public works. Many of those jobs were in construction. That successfully reduced the unemployment rate. But that meant Obama increased the debt by $8.6 trillion, a 74 percent increase. That drove the debt-to-GDP ratio to 104 percent.
It didn't stimulate demand as much as creating the same number of better paying high-tech jobs. In fact, jobs created after the last few recessions have led to greater income inequality, as re-hired workers became willing to take jobs that paid less. The high level of long-term unemployed and underemployed meant that trend only continued.
Job creation would have been stronger during Obama's term if Congress hadn't passed sequestration. In his last FOMC meeting, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted that these austerity measures forced the government to shed 600,000 jobs in four years. In the prior recovery, the economy added 400,000 jobs during the same period.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
President Johnson added 8.6 million jobs to the 68.2 million employed in December 1963. That's a 12.6 percent increase.
LBJ spent on social programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty. That increased the debt by 13 percent. By the time he left office, the economy was growing a robust 4.9 percent. That created a 4.7 percent inflation rate.
Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
President Nixon added 9.4 million jobs to the 76.8 million workers at the end of the Johnson administration. That's a 12.2 percent increase.
He initially presided over a growing economy. Americans celebrated by importing more goods. As they paid in dollars, foreigners started redeeming them for gold. The Bretton Woods Agreement guaranteed an ounce of gold for every $35. The United States could not redeem the $45.7 billion in global dollars, since it only held $14.5 billion in gold. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates to defend the gold standard, but that created the 1970 recession.
Nixon ordered a 90-day freeze on wages and prices, which worsened the recession. He soon abandoned the gold standard completely. That created double-digit inflation, as the dollar's value plummeted to $120 per ounce of gold.
Nixon won re-election. But his actions created the 1973 recession coupled with double-digit inflation. That situation is called stagflation. Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, due to the Watergate scandal.
Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President Eisenhower added 4.8 million jobs, a 7.9 percent increase. He increased the debt by 9 percent, or $23 billion, to fight two recessions. The end of the Korean War caused the 1953 recession. High interest rates caused the 1957 recession.
Part of Eisenhower's success with job creation was due to his creation of the Interstate Highway System. He spent $25 billion to build 41,000 miles of road.
A University of Massachusetts/Amherst study found that government spending on public transportation is the most cost-effective way to create jobs. One billion dollars spent on public transportation creates 19,795 construction jobs. It's a better unemployment solution than income tax cuts, which only creates 10,779 jobs for the same price.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Kennedy added 2.4 million jobs, a 3.7 percent increase. His inaugural speech created confidence. He endorsed deficit spending, increasing the debt by 8.6 percent. He raised the minimum wage, improved Social Security benefits, and passed an urban renewal package. That ended the 1960 recession he inherited from Eisenhower.
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
President Bush created 5.8 million jobs, a 4.2 percent increase. He struggled with two recessions. He lost 3.6 million jobs in 2008, his last year in office.
The job gains occurred before that, as he recovered from the 2001 recession. He responded to it with stimulus checks and the Bush tax cuts. But tax cuts are not the best ways to create jobs. He was helped by low interest rates from Alan Greenspan's expansive monetary policy.
Other One-Term Presidents
Presidents who only served one term had less time to create jobs.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) added 2.9 million jobs, a 2.5 percent increase. He added $1.5 trillion to the debt, a 54 percent increase.
Gerald Ford (1974-1977) added 3.6 million jobs, a 4.2 percent increase. He inherited the 1973 recession from President Nixon. He added $224 billion to the U.S. debt, which was a 47 percent increase.
Donald J. Trump (2017 - 2021)
President Trump created 4.7 million jobs in his first two years. That's a 3.1 percent increase over the 152.2 million people working at the end of Obama's term. Trump passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.
These numbers are taken from the household survey data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It counts the total number of people employed. That includes people who are self-employed, private household workers, and those who are temporarily on unpaid leave.
You may also see sources that use the non-farm payroll business survey data, also collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It does not include the self-employed or farm workers. It does count those under the age of 16. It also counts a person who holds two jobs as two employed persons.