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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Now THAT’S an Unemployment Crisis!

Fox News host Chris Wallace caught Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi drastically overstating the employment situation on January 18:

PELOSI: But in terms of what we have to do in the first 100 days, we must address the needs of this country. Five hundred million people will lose their jobs each month until we have an economic package.

WALLACE: No, 500,000.

PELOSI: What did I say, million?

WALLACE: Yes, 500 million. That would really be a recession.

PELOSI: Oh, no. Excuse me. Thank you for correcting me.


PELOSI: It feels like 500 million. Five hundred thousand Americans will lose their jobs each month until we have a recovery package.

This isn’t the first time Pelosi has said that Americans are losing 500 million jobs a month, a figure that, as Wallace points out, is astronomically misstated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that payroll employment dropped by more than 500,000 in December, and by 1.9 million over the last four months of 2008 (an average of almost 500,000 per month). That’s major job loss, but it still represents only a third of 1 percent of the labor force. Five hundred million is about 164 percent of the total U.S. population. In other words, a job loss of 500 million would mean that every person of any age in the United States would have lost his or her job one and a half times within a month.

To be fair to Pelosi, she had said earlier in the same interview that “we will lose half a million jobs a month the longer we go without a package,” and her other figures, such as the estimate of how many jobs the stimulus package would save, were within sane parameters. And it’s not that hard to get confused about orders of magnitude — we too have mistakenly confused “million” and “billion,” after all. But turning “thousand” into “million” takes much more than a typo. And the resulting claim is flatly absurd.

Correction, Feb. 5: We inadvertently referred to Wallace as Matthews in the next-to-last paragraph of the original post.