Trump boasts the economy reached historic heights during his first term. Here are 9 charts showing how it stacks up to the Obama and Bush presidencies.

Trump boasts the economy reached historic heights during his first term. Here are 9 charts showing how it stacks up to the Obama and Bush presidencies.
  • The pandemic wrecked the US economy, and now — in less than two weeks — voters are set to decide which candidate they want to put it back together.
  • Trump and Biden are making competing cases they are the best person to rebuild the economy.
  • But history suggests that presidents exert limited influence over the economy.
  • Here's how the economy under Trump stacked up to Obama and Bush, highlighted by nine charts addressing metrics like GDP growth, job gains, and unemployment among others.

The American economy is in shambles, the result of a pandemic which ended a decade-long stretch of growth and caused a historic wave of job losses earlier this year.

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, voters are deciding which candidate they want to put it back together — whether in the same image or a new one.

So far, the economy has regained just over half of the 21 million jobs lost in March and April. Both the Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have made opposing cases to rebuild from the wreckage.

Biden argues the catastrophic public health response from the Trump administration deepened the economic downturn, setting the stage for a highly uneven recovery between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else. He's unveiled plans to smother the virus and get people safely back to work.

Meanwhile, Trump boasts the economy had reached historic heights before the pandemic, even though it was growing just slightly above the same rate as his immediate predecessors. The president contends he can restore that progress, promising lower taxes and deregulation without specifying further.

Still, experts say presidents wield only limited power on the economy's trajectory.

"It's true the president is probably the single most powerful person with the most influence over it," Aaron Sojourner, a former White House economist who served both the Obama and Trump administrations, told Business Insider. "But nobody has very much control over it."

Here are nine charts that illustrate the state of the economy going back two decades and how Trump stacks up compared to his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.


Economic growth under Trump was barely above both Obama and Bush before the pandemic wrecked it.

The historical precedent for job gains is mixed.


Unemployment reached a half-century low earlier this year, but it spiked to historic levels during the pandemic. It has since fallen — though it remains high.

The stock market has grown under Trump as well as Obama and Bush, though recessions have slammed it.


Middle-class income fell during the Great Recession. It started climbing afterwards, though cost-of-living increases have undermined those gains.

Wages grew steadily under Bush and slowed under Obama. They started picking up again under Trump, but the pandemic's impact skewed this year's data.


Bush was the last president to inherit a budget surplus and started running a deficit. Obama cut it, though Trump ran bigger ones as a result of his tax cuts and the federal response to the pandemic.

The debt has mounted under every president for the past 20 years. Trump vowed to eliminate it but it never happened.


The trade deficit grew under Bush and largely held steady during Obama's terms. Trump pledged to erase it with better trade deals, but it has largely remained at similar levels.