The Jobs Numbers: What's True, False And Just Spin


Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions are over, it's clear that both President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are jockeying to be seen as the one who can lead America into prosperity.

And that means creating more jobs.

So for this week's roundup, AOL Jobs examined the four most prominent jobs claims offered up by speakers from the two parties during their conventions, exposing what's true, false and spin.

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1. Claim: The Democrats have created 18 million more jobs than the Republicans have since 1961.

Truth: In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, former president Bill Clinton ticked through a literal scorecard to argue that America gains more jobs when his party's in power. "Since 1961, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our economy produced 66 million private sector jobs. What's the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 [million]," the nation's 42nd president said.

While it's arbitrary to start the analysis from the beginning of the administration of John F. Kennedy, the "arithmetic," as Clinton put it, matches statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Why not start with Benjamin Harrison?) The precise tally, when adding up jobs created during the terms of the last 10 presidents, is 23.9 million jobs created when Republicans held the White House, 42.3 million when Democrats did.

And the president who presided over the era of largest jobs growth? Clinton himself, who saw 20.8 million new jobs in the private sector during his eight-year term. He's followed by Ronald Reagan, who saw 14.7 million new jobs.

The president who saw the fewest jobs created on his watch: George W. Bush. He is the only president who oversaw a decline in private jobs while he was in office, when the country lost 646,000 net jobs.

To give the numbers further context, as Politifact points out, the figures do not account for government jobs, which have always gone up under Democrats, given the GOP proclivity for slashing government.

But there seems to be a fair amount of external good fortune that has helped boost the economy while a Democrat happens to have been sitting in the Oval Office. Since 1961, Democratic administrations have overlapped with the start of just one recession, that of 1980. The Republicans, however, have held office during six recessions (in 1969 and 1973, 1981, 1990, 2001 and 2007). Of course, it can be argued that those recessions could very well be the fault of the Republicans. But it's also true that three of those GOP recessions took place during the first year of GOP administrations that followed a Democratic president.

Indeed, one school of thought argues that when studying "lagging" effects of economic policies from one administration into the next, the scorecard is much more even. Last year, James Campbell, a political science professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, took a look at the cumulative total of jobs creation during administrations since Harry Truman's. Campbell concluded, in an article in the journal Forum Mathematicum: "When economic conditions leading into a year are taken into account, there are no presidential party differences with respect to growth, unemployment, or income inequality."

Bottom line: Clinton's line about jobs creation during Republican and Democratic administrations is technically accurate. But a true economic analysis likely paints a much more balanced picture.


2. Claim: The U.S. has added 4.5 million private sector jobs since 2010.

Truth: It was perhaps the most popular talking point of the Democratic national convention. It appears in the official party platform, and was mentioned by a slew of speakers, including the keynote address by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the numbers match the official records.

But the January 2010 cutoff is an extremely convenient starting point for the Democrats and their narrative. If the line instead started in January 2009, the actual month Obama took office, the stat would come in at a much humbler 332,000 private-sector jobs that have since been created. Of course, Team Obama could argue that it took a year to see some effects of new policies, but that doesn't fit with the Clinton line (above) of jobs added since 1961, for instance.

Moreover, as CNNMoney points out, the narrow figure is all the less impressive when factoring in public sector jobs. Since Obama took office, there's been a net loss of 400,000 jobs among all workers outside of the self-employed and farmers. And the real number is probably even more than that. As is the case every 10 years, the government witnessed an temporary uptick of jobs to complete the census in 2010.

And what kinds of jobs are we talking about anyway? A widely cited study by the National Employment Law Project from last month found that the retail and food sales sectors are adding three jobs for every new job in higher-paid occupations. The new reality is that we "don't just have a jobs deficit; we have a 'good jobs' deficit," Annette Bernhardt, the policy co-director at NELP, the liberal advocacy group, told The New York Times.

Bottom line: The stat is completely accurate, but could only be described as disingenuous. The Democrats are cherry-picking information that while true, glosses over categories and time periods that result in a less positive story for them.

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3. Claim: There are 23 million unemployed people in America.

Truth: Talking to an empty chair wasn't the only thing that made film legend Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention a head-scratcher. Eastwood also slipped in this jobs' number in his biting attack on President Obama: "I haven't cried that hard since I found out that there are 23 million unemployed people in this country," he said in comparing the tough economic times of today to the national outpouring of emotion that followed Barack Obama's 2008 election win.

Where did the 23 million come from? According to the U.S. Labor Department, the total number of unemployed people is 12.8 million.But if you factor in the number of jobless Americans who have given up searching, so-called discouraged workers or other marginally attached, there are 15.3 million Americans who can be counted in the stat.

And then if you include 8.2 million part-time workers who say that they wish they were working full-time -- what the BLS refers to as one if its 'underemployed categories -- then Dirty Harry's claim seems, well, a little less dirty. However, many experts have pointed out calling these part-time workers "unemployed" is to change the meaning of that word as it's traditionally been used in the U.S.

But the Eastwood tabulation is already being repeated and cited as fact in the blogosphere on right-leaning blogs, like

Either way, the figure of the combined three categories hasn't changed all that much, relatively speaking, since the beginning of the Obama administration. In January 2009, the total stood at 22.1 million.

Bottom line: The 23 million line isn't a complete fabrication as some have said, as it does represent a cumulative sum of three categories of Americans whose employment situation is insufficient. But it is problematic, as it includes a statistical sum for all "underemployed Americans." But the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't provide such a piece of information because of the "difficulty of developing an objective set of criteria."

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4. Issue: The auto industry has created 250,000 new jobs under President Obama.

Truth: "GM is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead," is a line that's been offered up by Vice President Joe Biden as rationale enough to reelect President Obama. Central to this claim is that Obama's bailout of the auto industry not only saved the company but saved jobs and created news ones.

And Obama's supporters point out that Romney opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. "Now there are 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than the day the companies were restructured. Gov. Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. So here's another jobs score: Obama 250,000, Romney, zero," is how Clinton summed it up.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment in the auto industry is up by 233,800 workers since July 2009, when GM was restructured. That number includes jobs growth among auto manufacturers and dealers.

But as Paul Roderick Gregory pointed out on his blog at Forbes, GM's own annual reports provide a story for that automaker which is much less impressive: GM North America has, in fact, added just 4,500 jobs over that time. That means that GM accounts for 2 percent of all new jobs for auto manufacturing jobs. And between June 2009 and the present, 1,500 GM auto dealerships have actually closed. Those closures resulted in a net loss of 63,000 jobs.

But if you keep in mind all the related suppliers and the jobs they create, then the bailout saved far more jobs. The Center for Automotive Research, the Michigan-based nonpartisan think tank, estimates that the auto bailout has saved a total of 1.5 million U.S. jobs by keeping GM, Chrysler and the companies that depend on them open.

Mitt Romney famously opposed any auto bailout, penning a November 2008 op-ed for the New York Times, entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." He predicted that the bailout would lead to "the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses."

This has not come to pass, and in February 2012, Romney published another op-ed, entitled, "U.S. Autos Bailout 'Was Crony Capitalism' on a Grand Scale.' " He argues that while Chrysler and General Motors are still in business, "President Obama's management of the American economy are evident in what he did."

Bottom line: As proof of the support of policies for the auto sector, Mitt Romney himself has claimed that he deserves "a lot of credit" for the industry's successes. Indeed, it's entirely true that the BLS does show an uptick of jobs in the sector, even if they're not as apparent for GM itself. But the process of bringing these companies back to life isn't completely over: Taxpayers are still owed $25 billion.

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