POLITICS

A better way to compare Romney, Obama job figures

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

Democrats and their allies in the press are mocking the Romney campaign over a new defense, offered by top-level Romney surrogates on the Sunday talk shows, of Romney's record on employment as governor of Massachusetts.

On ABC's "This Week," top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom defended his boss against the charge that Massachusetts ranked 47th in the nation in job creation during Romney's time in office.  "Can I just say, on the jobs question, because this comes up repeatedly that Massachusetts was 47 out of 50 in terms of jobs growth," Fehrnstrom said.  "Actually, when Mitt Romney arrived, Massachusetts was an economic basket house. If you throw D.C. into the mix, we were 51 out of 51. By the time Mitt Romney left four years later, we were in the middle of the pack."

On "Fox News Sunday," another top Romney adviser, Ed Gillespie, tried a similar argument. "You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last," Gillespie said, "and [Democrats are] averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office."

Aha! say Democrats.  Isn't Romney using exactly the same argument to defend his record that President Obama is using to defend his?  The Obama campaign always points to the bad employment situation the president inherited.  Shouldn't Romney be called out when he does the same about his time in Massachusetts?  The DNC sent out emails Monday morning with headlines from Washington Post liberal blogger Greg Sargent and the liberal news site Talking Points Memo.  "Romney Camp Defends Poor Jobs Record: He Inherited A Bad Situation," reads one.  "The Romney campaign's double standard on jobs," reads the other.

"The Romney team is asking the press to focus on the jobs added later in Romney's term, rather than on the job losses that were taking place when Romney took office," writes Sargent.  "And yet, at the same time, the Romney team is basing its entire case against Obama’s record on the idea that there has been a net job loss during the Obama presidency -- a metric that does factor in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in the very beginning of Obama's term, before his policies took effect."

The pro-Obama critics have a point.  Romney's surrogates, and Romney himself, should apply the same standard to Romney's time in office as they do to Obama's. So why not try something simpler?  Why not look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which keeps unemployment figures on a national and state-by-state basis, and ask: Was the Massachusetts unemployment rate higher or lower when Mitt Romney left office than when he arrived?  Then ask the same question of Barack Obama for the national unemployment rate.

When Romney became governor in January 2003, the Massachusetts unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.  When he left office in January 2007, it was 4.6 percent.  In May 2006, the point in Romney's term that is comparable to where Obama is today, the Massachusetts unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

When Obama became president in January 2009, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent.  When do not know what it will be in January 2013 (for a full comparison to Romney), but the May 2012 rate was 8.2 percent.  So it is fair to say that in the first three-and-a-half years of Romney's term in Massachusetts, unemployment went down, and in the first three-and-a-half years of Obama's term in the White House, unemployment went up.

Now, there are a lot of other factors involved.  One of the most distressing aspects of recent unemployment is the staggering number of people who want jobs but have quit looking, and are thus not counted in that 8.2 percent unemployment rate.  Count those in, and the national rate in 14.8 percent.  What was the comparable figure in Massachusetts during Romney's time in office?  Also, the national employment-to-population ratio has suffered an alarming drop in recent years.

To make a brief comparison, the so-called U-6 rate, which measures those counted in the traditional unemployment number plus others who want a job but have given up looking, was 9.0% in Massachusetts in 2003.  (The figure is a year-long average from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)  It was 8.2 percent in 2006 (another year-long average.)  Nationally, the U-6 rate was 14.2 percent in January 2009. In May 2012, it was 14.8 percent.

But putting more complicated measurements aside, perhaps both teams' advisers should ask a simple question: Did unemployment go up or down during my candidate's time in office?

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