Journalism in the Public Interest

Our Guide to the Best Coverage on President Obama and the Economy


President Barack Obama speaks during the opening session of the Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College on Aug. 16, 2011. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Tonight, President Obama is expected to lay out new initiatives to help the sluggish economy and create jobs. Ahead of that speech, we’re taking a look at his economic record so far.

Things are not good for many Americans. The unemployment rate sits at 9.1 percent—up from the 7.2 percent that Obama inherited in 2009, which was already a 16-year high.

Of course, as the Obama administration has pointed out, the steepest job losses occurred in the early months of Obama’s tenure, before his economic policies—namely, the stimulus—took hold. Politifact rated that assertion true.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the president—and politicians generally—have limited control over economic growth. Though Obama and other contenders tout job numbers or GDP growth during their time in office, ultimately those indicators reflect more about the normal ups and downs of the business cycle than any one politician’s economic prowess.

So, given the fact that large, sweeping statistics aren’t the best gauge of how much credit (or criticism) to give to a politician, we’ve also run through the various programs Obama created to help the economy, looking at whether they worked and where you can find the best reading on them.

So What Effect Did the Stimulus Have? 

The centerpiece of Obama’s economic policy was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009. A mixture of tax cuts, safety net spending and long-term investments in renewable energy and infrastructure, the federal stimulus package has been polarizing for politicians and economists. The Washington Post’s Wonkbook blog rounds up the major studies, with most—but not all—concluding the stimulus has indeed significantly helped the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has written a raft of reports saying the stimulus has paid off.

Last year, Time magazine highlighted the program’s successes and transformative down payments for clean energy, education reform and high-speed rail. But others have raised questions about whether those programs will live up to their hype. The Bay Citizen noted recently that “green jobs” have been few and far between. Facing budget cuts, many states have had to delay school reforms after winning the administration’s Race to the Top competition. And although California’s high-speed rail line is moving forward, thanks to the stimulus, new estimates show its price tag could soar to more than $60 billion.

ProPublica has also tracked the stimulus since the beginning and reported one of its main flaws—that much of the stimulus money, especially for infrastructure, wasn’t going where it was most needed.

Another good read on why it has been so difficult for Obama to do more on jobs is Peter Baker’s piece in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year. The story details the various challenges Obama has faced in Congress, with the business community and within his economic team to come up with new ideas that will attract support and actually work.

Remember the Auto Bailouts

Yes, the bulk of the bailouts—including the bailout of the major banks—occurred under the Bush administration. But the Obama administration expanded on the auto bailout begun by Bush. And while the president and his administration have sought to sell the auto bailout as a success, it seems clear that—despite some misleading rhetoric—taxpayers won’t be recouping the loans in their entirety. U.S. officials have said they expect taxpayers to lose about $14 billion on the auto bailouts, the Wall Street Journal reported in June. (Check our page tracking the bailout as a whole.)

The Obama administration considers that figure to be a minimal amount against estimates that 1 million jobs would have been lost without the rescue. While it’s hard to predict whether the U.S. auto industry would have actually collapsed without the bailout, the industry has survived, created jobs since the bailout, repaid some loans early and is expected to repay back the bulk of the funds borrowed.

Help for Homeowners, or Not 

As we reported earlier this year, President Obama never fulfilled an important campaign promise to help homeowners by changing bankruptcy laws: “I will change our bankruptcy laws to make it easier for families to stay in their homes,” he said in September 2008. That never happened.

The Obama administration’s central effort to help struggling homeowners—the Home Affordable Modification Program—has also fallen drastically short of its goals to help 3 to 4 million homeowners avoid foreclosure. The voluntary program gives mortgage servicers and banks incentive payments for helping homeowners but imposes no penalties if they don’t.

Ultimately, the servicers offered permanent mortgage modifications to only a fraction of homeowners in need of them. Most of the roughly $30 billion in funds for the program—as well as another $7 billion in funding for states to help fund foreclosure prevention programs—have been left unspent.

The Obama administration has also recently pressed for a quick settlement to a nationwide investigation into the shoddy mortgage operations at banks. The administration’s push for a settlement is opposed by consumer advocates and some state officials, who have balked at an early settlement for fear that the banks will be let off the hook for their abuses.

Financial Reform

As the New York Times has noted, even before the economic meltdown in 2008, Barack Obama expressed concerns about gaps in regulation that left the financial system vulnerable. But the signature financial overhaul he championed and signed last year—the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill—waited until after the health care overhaul and, as we’ve noted, may ultimately fall short of the sweeping reform that it promised.  

Of course, the fate of Dodd-Frank, however it turns out, can’t all be placed on the president. The bill in its early form was watered down in some key areas during congressional negotiations, and the financial sector has continually lobbied to weaken the final rules even as regulators have fallen behind in writing them.

Other Unfulfilled Pledges

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans—that is, households making more than $250,000 a year and individuals making more than $200,000. As a 2008 piece for the New York Times magazine described it, “To a large extent, Obama’s own economic agenda revolves around reversing Bush’s tax policies.”

That didn’t work out. In December 2010, just as the Bush tax cuts were set to expire, Obama backed down in the face of Republican demands and extended the tax cuts for all Americans, including the wealthiest. He’s since renewed his promise to let the cuts for the richest expire the next time around, at the end of this year: “I refuse to renew them again,” he said in April.

In 2008, Obama told also told the Times writer David Leonhardt that the deficit was only one of the country’s long-term problems, and that while he admired Clinton’s economic policies, “I probably wouldn’t have been as obsessed with deficit reduction.”

As Leonhardt noted this summer, Obama’s stance shifted and he turned his focus on the deficit, in part because Republicans threatened to refuse to lift the nation’s debt ceiling unless deficit reduction was part of the deal.

ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell contributed to this report.

Barry Schmittou

Sep. 8, 2011, 2:13 p.m.

If Obama talks about his Christian values tonight please view to see how he is very opposite of the love of Christ !!

Labor Day Obama said “we make sure everyone gets the help that they need”

During his Eulogy sermon he said we should :

“expand our moral imaginations”
“sharpen our instincts for empathy”

Obama does not practice what he often preaches !!

I actually feel sorry for any president, be it a republican or democrat in these times..I’m not even sure what the purpose of this country having a president..what is he good for anyway.( what power does he actually have)..the congress seems to control all?
When he is making a national speech directed at that congress, to help in some way americans it is very discouraging to hear that so many members won’t even be attending? I don’t really care if democrat or republican, whomever, I would never vote back into office no matter how right they may be..either party.
Good Ideas, Bad Ideas, old news, doesn’t matter…Get your a-s in and listen and then make suggestions that help!.
To that senator(s) who doesn’t want to miss the game…To blank with you!!! while so many americans are starving to death, without homes or jobs…get your butt in office and listen to the gossip line of who won as a lot of americans are now forced to do!

A breezy gentile 1200 word apology piece for Obama’s mishandling of the nation’s economy. But should I have expected anything else?

Bill, the President’s powers (other than interacting with other countries) are to keep Congress in line.  Using a car as an analogy, he’s the accelerator and brake.  If Congress is about to do something stupid, he vetoes the bill.  If Congress won’t act, he forces them to convene until a good bill rolls down the Hill.

Trouble is, we don’t elect people who want to do that job.  They want to steer the car (Bush) or use it to pick up chicks (Clinton) or otherwise want to use the Parliamentary model where legislators make laws without any checks or balances beyond the courts.

Of course, as you point out, we don’t have legislators who want to do their jobs, either.  I’ll go further than you:  Any Congressman who misses even a single session (including walking out on a filibuster and especially if they’re not present for a vote) should be put on public trial immediately for dereliction of duty.  And not one of those wussy Congressional hearings, either, but standing against a jury of twelve citizens from their district to remind them that their “peers” aren’t politicians and lobbyists.

It’s a shame that politics in this country has been reduced to high school football rivalries.  I only cheer for Red (whichever one that is), and I can’t even TALK to you, because I’m afraid you’re a Blue (whichever that is) fan.  Thanks to the media, by the way, for color-coding things so that I don’t even need to remember a name.

Political discourse is dead, ostensibly because we don’t want to offend our friends and acquaintences, but really because we can’t accept disagreement anymore.  But (spoiled) three year olds have favorite colors and can’t deal with alternatives.  Adults embrace disagreement as an opportunity to chart the right course.  But when’s the last time you went to a restaurant and heard people talking about politics beyond parroting party-line talking points?

I just finished the first section of the article. It reads as an apology, a justification for a predetermined assertion for the author to use the rest of the piece as a proof.

It is not a guide, it is propaganda.

Propublica, I don’t understand how you can allow articles that are so blatantly biased. They color your whole publication. Is it that hard to write without a slant and not attempt to influence the mind of the reader in one direction or another.

Marian Wang, your writing is consistently slanted with an anti republican, anti gun, anti constitutional bias. Please leave your opinion out of fact related pieces. You specifically are one of the writers that are actively degrading ProPublica’s journalistic neutrality.

It pushes the whole publication down the road of being a Fox or MSNBC style outlet.

I usually feel that Propublica has a good handle on what’s happening in the marketplace, however your take on how the 800B stimulias of a few years ago was a success is misleading. The information I get is the opposite, for example $ 300M for Calif= 54 jobs—$ 600M to a solar panel mfg,.0 jobs& now bankrupt.The list goes on————I guess the so called media prints what they want, and rest of us believe what we want.—bottom line—it’s all nonsence anyway—

I would like to know more about Obama’s campaign contributions and would love to, “Follow the Money and Dive Deeper”, but I can’t on your 2012 candidate summary page. Why isn’t this link present on Obama’s profile, when it is present for all other candidates?
I belong to neither political party and try to vote for the person I feel is most qualified and will do the best job. It is becoming harder to find objective, non-biased sources of information (especially for political candidates) and your site normally strives to provide impartial reporting.
As a voter, I would be grateful if each candidate was covered consistently, so I can make a more informed decision. I would consider a campaign’s finances to be important, basic information and am disappointed you did not include it in your Obama profile.

Lisa:  This wasn’t an Obama profile….this was coverage on the economy by our president.  I’m sure ProPublica will do a “Guide to the Best Coverage” on our President Obama in the future.  Watch for it….

Logan:  Why is it that if the article in ProPublica doesn’t agree with what you believe, you blame it on the messenger?  I believe ProPublica is giving you the best information that they have with a non-partisan format.  Unfortunately, not everyone who reads ProPublica is going to agree with everything they say, but they have the right to say it like it is and you can believe what you want.

A moral imperative trumps all considerations of Barack Obama’s successes or failures on the economy, environment or other issues:  our President is an (yet) unindicted war criminal and a betrayer of his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution and faithfully to execute our laws.

hiram jackson woote

Sep. 21, 2011, 7:04 p.m.

burn and destroy all bridges in America, i do not have to go far to see oboma economics in progress (they have already destroyed a bridge ON HIWASEEE RIVER, now they are working on destroying one that has been in MARION COUNTY FOR APP 100 YRS STOP THIS
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  P.S. Get some jobs in us instesad of destroying it.

Regrettably, Mr Jackson, it is already too late.  It was too late in 2006, when “Nemesis” by Chalmers Johnson was copyrighted. 

We all had hoped that the 2008 elections would have brought in at least a mitigation of the damage to our republic done by GWB’s administration, his illegal wars, his attrition of our rights.

But no!  The Democratic voters selected a relative newcomer to Washington.  They allowed their hopes to fill in for his vagueness, and they overlooked his brief record in the US Senate, his advocacy of an expanded war in Afghanistan.  All many saw was his black skin, and their desire to overturn the racial wrongs since Columbus discovered America was overwhelming.  There were other choices for the Democrats in those early debates:  Kucinich, for example.  Democrats chose their hopes, and that was their last chance! 

Now, we have not only the wars started by Bush but expansions of them and other wars, as well.  Our Treasury has no reserves, just copies of the IOUs we gave to China, S. Korea and Japan for their gracious loans.  Our Constitution has been further shredded by a lecturer in constitutional law from the University of Chicago Law School.  It’s all over now, “Baby Blue”.

Many bridges have been destroyed, Mr Wooten, and they all lie between us now and the America that once was.

You must consider all factors: First Obama has done a good job codsidering the GOP and the tea party has did everything they could to sabotage his administration and you have to make note that this is by their own admition. Secondly the crooks that control the money have did everything to destroy our economy with their influentence and money. You must make note the first market crash was by design by those unscroupilous UnAmerican thugs. We need to start bringing charges against them. If anyone cares to right the ship I’ll be glad to tell you how. I thank you for this oppurtunity to share my veiws.

Robert Alexander Dumas

Oct. 5, 2011, 1:53 p.m.

Whatever else I do in this lifetime, voting for Obama a second time will not be on that list.

An interesting article. I have yet, however, to see an article by any news source that persistently goes after the fact that US companies are sitting on more cash than ever before, able to borrow at lowest rates than ever before, and still refuse to invest in industries of the future that would 1) create jobs and 2) create consumers for their products.

Instead, they lay off more people while CEO’s take personal payouts in stock of many millions each because they, by laying off people, boosted the company’s short term profits. A case could be made that companies are trying to defeat this Administration (I’ve seen columnists actually apologize for suggesting such a thing but frankly, the evidence is there). This may or may not be part of the agenda. What seems clear is that the private sector alternately blames and hides behind the government, allowing politicians of all stripes to take the blame while its leaders relax in style, untouched by the chaos they’ve created.

I’m very tired of reading quotes by commentators and business experts who claim that CEO’s are afraid to hire because of the economy. They ARE the economy. Their concerns are real up to a point but if one looks further, I’m guessing we’ll find that their real concern is their own wealth.

The private sector needs to be held as accountable as the public sector for its role in the state of our economy, the plunge in educational investment and bleak prospects for a recovery.

@Curtis Bash:  I find it hard to believe that a fellow so alert to what is happening in our politics, a fellow with such clear views - some I share - could make so many mistakes in English.  Have you learned English as a second language?  If so, you have a lot of courage to express yourself in a language that you know only in a rudimentary way.  I could suppose that you are a Republican pretending to be a left-center Democrat, but why waste your time. 

Have you thought about trying to improve your English?  Your intelligent views would be made more persuasive if you did.  Keep up the good work!

We watch the super rich on Bravo TV with their 25,000 gold/diamond sunglasses, pampered pets, fashion exquisite food shows and compare it to the gripping documentaries that are allowed to be shown on Netflix of poverty in the world. The wealthy, whine, whine whine, the starving/dying are silent in their suffering. Don’t worry, you with the yachts and tax loopholes, your day of reckoning is coming. Be afraid…be very afraid…you might break a nail, or be exposed or rejected. What will all of your material riches be worth when you stand before death and have no excuse for your stupid insatiable greed for power and possessions while you could have been saving the lives of those who like you had no food to eat today, or yesterday, or weeks and you could have made a difference?

@ Mary Schanno   that sorta sums up a lot of what we are demonstrating against as the occupation of wall street is happening. it seems easy to look at these greedy pigs and think that it IS easy to make a real difference. what stops them i can’t guess. i do have a friend though, to give you an example of wrongful thinking, who wound up with someone giving her a ticket to see July 4th fireworks after she had bought herself a ticket. when i suggested that she give the ticket to someone who asked me if i had an extra ticket( i didn’t) she wouldn’t give the girl the ticket. she just kept it, even though it had no value after that evening. And, she attends “church” every week. so go figure. i just don’t get it. not at all

I keep searching daily and see all this destruction of bridges across
America, If this trend keeps up we will sea no beauty in America
only concrete slabs, check your computers and you will see my point of view.Our Country must be on thin ICE ,all this unnecessary
destruction of bridges to aid an economy that is on thin ice also ,
is not the way to go (keep America beautiful stop destroying it and get the economy going . jackwooten .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I keep searching daily and see all this destruction of bridges across
America, If this trend keeps up we will sea no beauty in America
only concrete slabs, check your computers and you will see my point of view.Our Country must be on thin ICE ,all this unnecessary
destruction of bridges to aid an economy that is on thin ice also ,
is not the way to go (keep America beautiful stop destroying it and get the economy going . .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Best Coverage on President Obama and the Economy? Wow! with all the initiatives and goals the president is planning to achieve ,there definitely should be a coverage on how he does things.

Obama lost the trust of young people by too much compromise and his kissing ass behaviors. He decieved us all. Look at his last act: putting an American citizen in custody indefinitely. Shame shame shame. Worst than Joe McCarthy’s era!

Yes, Reza, I agree with you   This is a rather old site.  The comment before yours was made on Nov 9th.

Barack Obama is, in my opinion, the worst of our presidents over the 213 years of our Constitution.  Of recent presidents, Obama is worse than Nixon, Reagan or George W. Bush.  Obama is worse than GWB, because Obama has violated his oath in ways the GWB did not dare:  one example -  by assuming for himself the powers of an absolute ruler, beyond any judicial authority. 

Obama is a worse liar than we have yet had.  He is a war criminal.  He is a barbarian.

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