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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama, Romney Surrogates Spin Jobs Data

A lackluster jobs report for June generated a flurry of false and misleading statements on the Sunday talk shows by surrogates for Obama and Romney:

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, falsely claimed U.S. automakers “had a record June … 7,000 auto jobs created.” It’s true that 7,000 automotive jobs were created, but it’s not a record for June or any other month.
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley challenged Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s statement that the U.S. “lost nearly half a million jobs” under Obama. O’Malley interjected: “Not true.” But Jindal is right. The U.S. has lost 473,000 jobs since January 2009.
  • O’Malley also said that “no one can argue the fact that last year we created more jobs than were created in all eight years of George W. Bush, and that happened in 2010, as well.” O’Malley’s right about 2011, but wrong about 2010.
  • O’Malley also falsely claimed that there was “record unemployment” under Bush. Not true. The rate hit nearly 25 percent during the Great Depression and topped 10 percent for months under Ronald Reagan. Bush’s worst month was 7.8 percent.
  • Jindal said the Massachusetts unemployment rate was “below the national average” when Romney was governor. But that’s misleading. The state’s unemployment rate was already below the national average when Romney took office, but it was at or above the national average in his last 14 months as governor.

‘Record June’ for Auto Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest job figures July 6, showing that the U.S. added 80,000 jobs. It was the third straight month that the economy added less than 100,000 jobs, putting President Obama and his surrogates on the defensive. One of the bright spots was in manufacturing, which added 11,000 jobs — including 7,000 in motor vehicle and parts.

Wasserman Schultz seized on the auto jobs figure during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

Wasserman Schultz, July 8: … all three automakers have actually had record increases in job creation. They had a record June — a month of June, 7,000 auto jobs created. We’ve — we have begun to move in the right direction.

That’s not true. The auto industry did not have “a record June.”

On its website, BLS provides monthly jobs data for selected sectors, including two for the automotive industry: “motor vehicles and parts, durable goods” and “motor vehicle and parts dealers, retail.” These are the two categories that the Obama administration uses to measure the number of jobs in the auto industry.

The June figures show that “motor vehicles and parts, durable goods” added 6,700 jobs and “motor vehicles and parts dealers, retail” added 300 jobs for a total of 7,000 — just as Wasserman Schultz says. But that’s not a record.

BLS provides monthly online data only to 1990, but even in that limited time frame there have been larger job increases in the month of June. In June 1994, the auto industry added 14,800 new auto jobs — more than twice as many as were created in June 2012. More auto jobs were also created in June 1996 (10,100) and June 1999 (7,300).

Job Losses Under Obama

Over on ABC’s “This Week,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had a sharp exchange over the total number of jobs lost under President Obama.

Jindal, July 8: Well, Terry, let’s actually look at the facts for the whole four years now, three-and-a-half years where President Obama has been president, we’ve lost nearly half a million jobs since this president was elected.

O’Malley: Not true.

Jindal is right; O’Malley is wrong.

Jindal said “since this president was elected” (which would be November 2008), but he undoubtedly meant since Obama became president (which would be January 2009). The U.S. has lost 473,000 jobs since January 2009, using the standard measure of total nonfarm seasonally adjusted jobs data. The U.S. had 133,561,000 total jobs in January 2009 and 133,088,000 as of June.

The job losses to date are even higher — nearly 2 million — if you go back to November 2008, but that clearly was not Jindal’s intent based on the figure he gave of “nearly half a million jobs.”

We should also note, as we have explained before, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics bases its job figures on a monthly survey covering the week that contains the 12th day, so the large job losses in January 2009 took place before Obama was sworn in on the 20th.

Job Figures: Bush vs. Obama

O’Malley also said that “no one can argue the fact that last year we created more jobs than were created in all eight years of George W. Bush, and that happened in 2010, as well.” Actually, we can argue that fact. The governor is correct about last year, but not about 2010.

Comparing jobs data for Bush and Obama has become a talking point for Democrats. But it is a misleading talking point since they ignore job losses under Obama and compare only his job gains to Bush’s job-creation record. We pointed this out last month, when Obama claimed he created more private-sector jobs in the past 27 months than were created “during the entire seven years before this crisis.” That’s simply cherry-picking the jobs data. Obama ignores the job losses during the recession he inherited, but assigns Bush full responsibility for job losses during the recession that began within weeks of Bush taking office in 2001

In this case, O’Malley is not merely misleading, but wrong — at least about 2010.

BLS data for total nonfarm seasonally adjusted jobs show the U.S. had 130,346,000 jobs as of December 2010, up from 129,319,000 in December 2009. That’s 1,027,000 new jobs — slightly less than the 1,095,000 jobs created in Bush’s eight years, from January 2001 to January 2009. The U.S. added more than 1.8 million jobs in 2011, so O’Malley is right about that.

‘Record Unemployment’ Under Bush?

O’Malley also falsely claimed that there was “record unemployment, record job losses” under Bush. That ignores the obvious. The annual unemployment rate was 24.9 percent in 1933 during the Depression — three times higher than the worst month under Bush (7.8 percent in January 2009).

Asked to explain what the governor meant, O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory told us in an email: “In the recession of the 1980s, there were 3 million jobs lost. In the most recent recession, 8 million jobs were lost. The most jobs lost since the Great Depression.”

But O’Malley didn’t say he was excluding the Depression when adding Bush’s name to the record book.

Also, not all 8 million jobs were lost under Bush. Nearly half were lost under Obama.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total nonfarm employment declined by nearly 8.8 million between its most recent peak in January 2008 and when the job slump bottomed in February 2010. Of those lost jobs, 4.4 million disappeared while Bush was president, and 4.3 million vanished under Obama.

O’Malley also ignores population growth when claiming record unemployment and job loss under Bush. Yes, more jobs were lost during the recent recession compared to the one that began in July 1981. But there were 229 million Americans in July 1981 — about 78 million fewer than the 307 million who were living in the U.S. in July 2009.

For that reason, the unemployment rate is the standard for measuring the impact of job gains and losses. By that measure, unemployment was worse and the job losses deeper during both the Great Depression and the recession of the early 1980s.

The unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent for 10 consecutive months during Ronald Reagan’s presidency from September 1982 to June 1983 — peaking at 10.8 percent in November and December of 1982. It also reached 10 percent under Obama in October 2009. (BLS provides monthly unemployment rates dating to 1948 on one of its web pages by changing the “output options” at the top of the page.)

Massachusetts’ Unemployment Rate Under Romney

Democrats weren’t the only ones spinning jobs data.

Jindal, July 8: You look at Mitt Romney’s record when he was governor of Massachusetts. Unemployment rate, it was below 5 percent…. their unemployment below the national average.

That’s misleading. The state’s unemployment rate was already below the national average when Romney took office and the same as the national average when he left — so the state’s employment situation improved, but at a slower rate than the nation as a whole. In fact, the state’s unemployment rate was the same or higher than the national average for the final 14 months of Romney’s tenure.

The state’s unemployment rate stood at 5.6 percent when Romney took office in January 2003 — a little less than the national average of 5.8 percent. It remained below the national average for nearly three years — until December 2005, when both the state and nation had the same 4.9 percent unemployment rate.

For 11 of Romney’s final 13 months in office, Massachusetts had a marginally higher unemployment rate than the national average. It was the same rate (4.6 percent) when Romney left office in January 2007.

We have written extensively about Romney’s job-creation record as governor on more than one occasion, most recently in a June 8 item called “Romney’s Jobs Record Is Best (or Worst).”

— Eugene Kiely and Jesse DuBois