Mitt Romney speaks as President Obama listens during their debate. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images )
The second presidential debate began just as the first did – with a lot of statistics tossed out about jobs and unemployment. Two of them are worth some scrutiny.
Mitt Romney said today’s unemployment rate of 7.8% grossly understates what’s really going on in the economy. Specifically, he said that if the government counted all the people who dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be 10.7%.
But Romney’s figure assumes that the nation’s labor-force population in the last few years had kept growing at the same rate as before the recession began in late 2007. But the country has been aging – meaning more people are retiring and leaving the labor force – and more people have been going to college.
The upshot is that depending on the assumptions made about population growth, analysts estimate, the real jobless rate today could be anywhere between 9.5% and 11%.
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Romney, not surprisingly, went toward the high end.
The former Massachusetts governor also said that there are fewer people working today than when Obama took office in January 2009.
Let’s look at the numbers.
You can count employment in one of two ways using the Labor Department’s data. One way is to look at the jobs reported by employers. By that count, there were 133.5 million jobs in September, compared with 133.56 million in January 2009.
So Romney is right, but only for the moment. That’s because the Labor Department said recently that it was likely to revise up the job number for the 12 months ended last March by nearly 400,000 – which would put the payroll tally today well above the number when Obama was inaugurated.
But by another measure, Romney’s claim is clearly wrong. The Labor Department also counts employment by asking households every month whether they’re working or not. And on this score, the economy has nearly 800,000 more people working today than in January 2009.
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Romney also said 580,000 fewer women with jobs today than when Obama took office.
Actually, by the government’s monthly survey of employers, it’s 283,000 fewer. And that’s not counting the upward revisions that are expected to be made on 2011 and early 2012 data.
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