Mitt Romney speaks at a construction materials company in Pittsburgh. (Justin K. Aller, Getty Images )
Mitt Romney, who has long staked his presidential bid on his business experience, painted a rosy picture of his definition of a successful economy on Friday, arguing that the unemployment rate should be cheered only if it is below 4%, and arguing that half a million new jobs should be created every month in a true economic recovery.
Those sorts of economic conditions have rarely existed in recent American history. But when Romney made his remarks in response to a new jobs report that unemployment had dipped to 8.1% and the economy added 115,000 jobs last month, they were just the latest chapter in the harsh critique that Romney has hammered throughout the campaign.
Though the president did not create the recession, Romney often argues, he has stunted the growth of small businesses and jobs by creating a regulatory maze with his healthcare program and shepherding through an ineffectual stimulus program that added to the nation's mounting debt.
On Friday, Romney repeated his view that the president should not take credit for any dip in joblessness when the unemployment rate remains at 8.1%.
"We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery," Romney said during a morning appearance on "Fox and Friends."
Liberal groups immediately leapt in to defend President Obama's economic record and suggested that Romney was setting the bar too high. In the last 50 years, there have been four months where 500,000 or more jobs were created, according to Think Progress, an arm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
Later in the day, at a speech at a cement factory in Pittsburgh, Romney revised the figure to "hundreds of thousands."
"Normally, that would be cause for celebration, but in fact anything over 8%, anything near 8% — anything over 4% — is not cause for celebration," Romney said. "The reason the rate came down was because about 340,000 dropped out of the workforce."
In recent decades, unemployment has rarely been 4% or under. The last time was for five months in 2000 and once in late 1999. The last time before that was in 1970. The federal government began tracking such figures in 1948, and recorded the highest unemployment levels in 1982 and 1983, when it routinely topped 10%.
Democrats argue that Romney is being disingenuous, especially in light of his record in Massachusetts: Unemployment was never below 4.7% during his tenure.
"From start to finish, Mitt Romney's speech today was filled with dishonesty and distortions about both President Obama's record and his own," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith.
A Romney spokeswoman said he would not back down on the high unemployment under Obama's watch.
"Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney is not willing to accept Obama's new normal of high unemployment," said Andrea Saul.