An image was recently posted on politics about how the economy changed under Obama. While that question was not asking about the validity of the claim itself, instead focused on the validity of trying to infer the successfulness of a presidents polices based off of changes in the economy, I'm curious about the accuracy of the image itself.

changes under president obama

The image claims that from 2009-2016, under Obama:

  • The DOW increased from 6626 to 17481
  • The S&P 500 increased from 683 to 2040
  • Unemployment decreased from 10% to 4.9%
  • Uninsured adults decreased from 18% to 11.8%
  • American cars sold increased from 10.4M to 17.5M
  • Deficit as a % of GDP decreased from 9.8% to 2.8%
  • Consumer confidence increased from 37.7 to 92.2

Are these claims all accurate?

  • 4
    Meh, even if they are, it's hard not to have a bounce from the recession of the century (until the Covid one bested it). May 12, 2021 at 14:06
  • @fizz I agree one shouldn't read too much into the meaning, the original politics question cited that. I'm still curious about the actual validity. To me it was the % of GDP that really struck me as odd, that's less then 1/3 of what it was, I was pretty sure Obama increased the deficit (in raw numbers), and I don't think our GDP tripled in 7 years. Thus that claim seemed suspicious to me.
    – dsollen
    May 12, 2021 at 14:13
  • 5
    I'm guessing the "Deficit as a % of GDP decreased from 9.8% to 2.8%" is per that year, not cumulative. The various plans to get out the recession probably accounted for the extra spending in 2009. May 12, 2021 at 14:15
  • 6
    @dsollen - the debt is cumulative. The deficit is the annual contribution to the debt.
    – Mark
    May 12, 2021 at 19:37
  • 2
    I think the question being asked and the question that should be asked are different. While it might be that those numbers are true the question is how much do they mean if they started at the end of a major recession and ended after 8 years of growth? Sure you can still say he did a good job but it might not be only because of what he did.
    – Joe W
    May 12, 2021 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


Mostly correct and accurate

On a glance, the numbers are entirely plausible. Obama took office during the Great Recession and his opening numbers will reflect a poor economic situation. He left office with the economy in good shape, though still weakened by the recession in key areas, and with the Affordable Care Act in full swing.

"2009" is ambiguous. There's multiple possible interpretations which allows for cherry picking.

  • Jan 20th, 2009, when Obama was inaugurated.
  • A single day in 2009.
  • The lowest of all values in 2009.
  • All of 2009.

While there are inconsistencies in exactly when in 2009 their snapshot was taken, there's no trend of cherry picking. Sometimes it makes Obama look better (unemployment) sometimes they could have made Obama look better (consumer confidence). None of the choices effect the overall trend. I looked for matching numbers from a reliable sources whenever possible.

Some of the statistics obviously have no exact number on March 17th, 2016. This is taken to be what was available at the time, which in some cases would be February statistics. I was not always consistent about this in my research, but it shouldn't throw things off much. Please edit to correct.


Correct and consistent.

Using Yahoo Finance Historical Data. The DOW opened at 6626 on March 9th, 2009 and closed at 17481 on March 17th, 2016.

  • Jan 20th, 2009 - Open: 8279.63 High: 8291.98 Low: 7939.93 Close: 7949.09
  • March 9, 2009 - Opened at 6625.74 (matches the claim)
  • March 10th, 2009 - Opened at 6595 (lowest open for 2009)
  • March 6th, 2009 - Low: 6,469.95 (lowest low of 2009)
  • March 17th, 2016 - Open: 17,321 High: 17529 Low: 17297 Close: 17481 (close matches the claim)

S&P 500

Correct and consistent.

Again using Yahoo Finance Historical Data. March 6th, 2009 it closed at 683.38 and on March 17th, 2016 closed at 2040.59.

  • Jan 20th, 2009 - Open: 849.64 High: 849.64 Low: 804.47 Close: 805.22
  • March 6th, 2009 - Open: 684.04 High: 699.09 Low: 666.79 Close: 683.38 (matches the claim, lowest low)
  • March 10th, 2009 - Open: 679 (lowest open)
  • March 17th, 2016 - Open: 2,026.90 High: 2,046.24 Low: 2,022.16 Close: 2,040.59 (close matches the claim)

Both the DOW and S&P claims use 2009 dates within a few days of each other. The difference does not materially affect the result.


Correct, but inconsistent 2009 date.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics - Graphics for Economic News Releases. They've picked the worst value for 2009. Their 2016 value is basically correct. There is no exact number for March 17th, 2016.

  • Jan 2009 - 7.8%
  • Mar 2009 - 8.7%
  • Oct 2009 - 10%
  • Feb 2016 - 4.9%
  • Mar 2016 - 5%

Unlike the DOW and S&P numbers which uses March 2009, here they're using October. This makes Obama look a bit better, but does not materially affect the claim.

Uninsured Adults

Both are too high, trend is correct.

The numbers are off, they're both too high, but the trend is accurate. This reflects the impact of the Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare". There is no exact number for March 17th, 2016.

Estimates of uninsured adults are done by survey and may reflect inaccuracies and different methodologies. One important factor is whether its measuring health insurance coverage during the entire calendar year and health insurance coverage at the time of the interview.

According to Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009 from the US Census Bureau, the midpoint of 2009 was 16.7%.

Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2016 says 8.8% had no health insurance at all during 2016 and 8.6% who were uninsured when interviewed.

These numbers reflect an even larger fall in the uninsured, down 7.9% vs 6.8% in the claim.

American Cars Sold


"Cars" here seems to be "light vehicles" which includes light trucks such as vans, minivans, SUVs, and pickups which most people would call "cars". According to Statista the numbers are correct.

  • 2009 - 10,402,300
  • 2016 - 17,477,300 (rounds up to 17.5 million)

Deficit % of GDP

Basically correct.

Note that this is the % of the year's budget as GDP, not the total debt owed.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)'s Monthly Budget Review Fiscal Year 2009 reported a total budget deficit of $1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2009 or 9.9%.

CBO's Monthly Budget Review: Summary for Fiscal Year 2016 gives a deficit of $587 billion for 2016 or 3.2% of the GDP. That's for the whole year. Their review for March 2016 does not provide GDP to compare against, that it was 2.8% as of March 17th, 2016 is plausible.

Consumer Confidence

Correct, and not even the worst numbers for 2009.

The US Consumer Confidence Index is the result of a survey by The Conference Board. It puts out monthly reports which sometimes revise the previous months.

37.7 appears to be the index reported in January 2009. Consumer confidence in February 2009 hit an all time low of 25.0 down from a revised 37.4 for January.

According to MarketWatch 92.2 is the original index for February 2016 (what was available on March 17th, 2016). The Conference Board report at the end of March projected 94.2 and was 96.2, and revised February upwards to 94.0.


While the numbers do not line up exactly, without sources this is not surprising, especially for the "fuzzier" numbers like uninsured (based on surveys). I find no misleading nor inaccurate statistics in the claim.

  • The Dow and S&P figures for 2009 both match the close figures for 2009-03-06, provided they're truncated rather than rounded. Specifically, the Dow closed at $6,626.94 on that day, and if you just drop the pennies rather than rounding it matches. May 13, 2021 at 21:28
  • It might be worth noting the degree to which the GDP increased as the budget deficit decreased.
    – phoog
    May 17, 2021 at 2:38

As far as the Dow Jones goes, according to the data reported at Yahoo Finance the lowest reported value is 6,470 (March of 2009) and the DJIA did rise to about about 17,000 over the indicated time frame. So it is possible depending on the exact date used as a baseline.

Using the same Yahoo data for the S&P 500 indicates that the figures for that metric are pretty much in line with what occurred between March 2009 and March 2016. Though there may be a bit of cherry picking the lowest value for the starting point, and the highest value for the ending point.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps records on unemployment. March 2009 is 8.7%, March 2016 is 5.0%. A 10% unemployment rate occurred in October 2009.

One can look at the data on the deficit provided by the Congressional Budget Office. This spreadsheet provides the deficit as % of GDP for 2009 and 2016 in lines 104 and 111 in sheet 1: 9.8% in 2009 and 3.2% in 2016. This differs slightly from the cited numbers.

Overall, for the features I've checked, the overall trend and magnitudes of these changes are approximately correct. There may be a bit of cherry picking of the exact dates (or maybe estimates) going on -- pick the lowest/worst value for the 2009 point, and the highest/best value for the 2016 point, but not to such a degree as to totally invalidate the content of the post.

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