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Feb. 17, 2017, 4:19 a.m. EST

A look at the economy Trump inherited, which he calls a ‘mess’

Unemployment rate is vastly lower than the one that greeted Obama

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By Greg Robb, MarketWatch

Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference.

President Donald Trump on Thursday continued to disparage the U.S. economy, painting a dystopian picture of massive job loss, violent inner cities and rising drug abuse.

“I inherited a mess at home,” he said. “Democrats screwed things up royally.”

Trump’s nightmare visions contrasts with outside experts who actually are growing more confident about the U.S. economic outlook, and importantly, they were before the president took office.

The unemployment rate when President Obama took office, in January 2009, was 7.8%. In January 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.8%.

The U.S. lost 793,000 jobs during the month Obama was sworn into office; it gained 227,000 positions in January.

Even if some of the recent uptick in activity is attributed to confidence rising since the election of Trump — and surveys shows both business and consumer confidence has climbed since November — the economy was on far stronger footing than the one Obama inherited.

Also see: The Trump Scoreboard: Track the markets and economy under Trump in one graphic

Indeed, analysts are beginning to think the economy likely does not need the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates so low.

Just Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed factory index hit its highest level since 1984 in February. And the 4-week average of jobless claims fell to the lowest level since 1973.

In addition, retail sales sizzled in January and the economy may escape the first-quarter doldrums that have plagued it in recent years.

Fed officials are expressing some satisfaction with the economy’s recent performance.

Dennis Lockhart, the outgoing president of the Atlanta Fed, said recent data suggest the economy is on a “little stronger” path than he expected.

And Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said the economy was warming up. He noted the unemployment rate has been falling steadily and inflation is perking up, putting the Fed close to its twin goals.

That said, Republicans like to point out that the economy’s annual growth rate has not topped 3% since 2005, and it grew an unimpressive 1.6% last year. And they think a lower level of labor-force participation is obscuring weakness in the jobs market.

Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @grobb2000.

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