How Biden's economy stacks up against every president's since Eisenhower

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How Biden's economy stacks up against every president's since Eisenhower
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to supporters after arriving on an Amtrak train for a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio, U.S., September 30, 2020. Mike Segar/Reuters
  • President Biden is, so far, handily outscoring most post-war presidents in guiding the US economy.
  • Only Presidents Johnson, Carter, and Kennedy enjoyed stronger GDP growth in their first term.
  • But such comparisons come with massive caveats.

President Joe Biden has already led the US through some of its strongest ever quarters of economic growth. But two other post-war presidents have him beat.

The government revealed on Thursday the US economy grew at an annualized rate of 6.5% in the second quarter. The figure marked the second-largest jump in gross domestic product since 2003, and in any normal year, it would signal tremendous economic strength.

The report gave Biden an attractive economic scorecard to campaign on, despite the figure falling well short of estimates. The president cheered the GDP report in a Thursday tweet, noting it was the fastest first-half growth in nearly four decades. In another, he called the growth "a direct result of our efforts to deliver economic relief."

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Despite being just one full quarter old, the Biden economy is already outpacing those of most past presidencies. President Lyndon Johnson saw the strongest growth in his first term, and President Jimmy Carter followed close behind. President John F. Kennedy is the last of the three to surpass Biden. On the other end of the spectrum, Presidents Barack Obama, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan were the only post-war presidents to see growth decline in their first terms.

But such comparisons come with tremendous caveats. For one, GDP is inherently flawed. The gauge doesn't track non-market transactions, income inequality, or the sustainability of growth. Some economists prefer gauges like gross domestic income or the Genuine Progress Indicator to get a more holistic view of the US economy.

The gauge is also influenced by events out of each presidents' control. President Donald Trump boasts the worst scorecard of all modern presidents, but his measure is heavily skewed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial lockdowns in early 2020 froze the US economy and powered the single worst quarter of GDP contraction on record.

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Conversely, Biden has benefitted massively from this year's rebound. He entered office mere weeks after the first COVID-19 vaccine received emergency authorization. Rolling out vaccines allowed the country to quickly reopen and powered a swift economic rebound.

The White House is currently inching toward passing a $1 trillion infrastructure package officials have pitched as an investment in long-term growth. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in May urged lawmakers to approve the measure, adding Americans can expect "a big return" from its various programs.

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