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Fact check: Romney overstates the number of Americans out of work

October 03, 2012|By Don Lee

In describing the economic hardships under President Obama’s stewardship, Mitt Romney asserted that 23 million people are out of work or have stopped looking for work. But that’s stretching the truth.

To get at that figure, Romney lumped together three groups of people: the unemployed; those working part-time jobs who want full-time work; and people who are out of work and have stopped looking for jobs for various reasons.

Here’s how  the Bureau of Labor Statistics broke down those numbers for August, the most recent month available:

There were 12.5 million people officially unemployed, and this is the figure that is used to make up the jobless figure, most recently 8.1%.

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There were also about 8 million people who were working part-time in August, although not by their own choice. Some said they couldn’t find full-time work, but most said they were working part-time because of weak business conditions. These workers may be looking for other jobs, or they may be waiting for business to get better and for their employers to give them more hours.

These two groups of people add up to 20.5 million. To get to 23 million, Romney included an additional 2.5 million unemployed people whom the government describes as being “marginally attached” to the labor market. About one-third of these people quit looking for jobs because they became discouraged and didn’t see much hope in the job market. The remaining two-thirds include people who stopped looking for work because of health reasons, transportation issues or other problems.

All that said, it’s possible – maybe even probable – that 23 million people in America are out of work and have quit looking for jobs. Many people have dropped out of the job market in recent years, returning to school or retiring earlier than they had planned because of weak hiring. But the government doesn’t have good data on those people.

So while 23 million may correctly describe the number of people who are struggling in the job market, it would have been clearer – and more accurate – to say that’s the total unemployed and underemployed.

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don.lee@latimes.com

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