Romney’s 500,000 Monthly Jobs in U.S. Anything But Normal

BGOV barometer
Graphic: Alex Tribou/Bloomberg

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney set a tough economic benchmark when he said last week that U.S. payroll growth of 500,000 jobs a month should be “normal” in a recovery.

The BGOV Barometer shows job creation has reached that level only 10 times since 1950, or about once every six years, according to Labor Department figures. Those gains typically can be traced to special circumstances such as the end of strikes, census hiring and military mobilizations.

Romney raised the notion of creating a half-million jobs a month on May 4, after the government reported that employers added a less-than-projected 115,000 new workers in April, the fewest since October.

“We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month,” Romney said during an interview on Fox News. “This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery.”

Monthly job growth has averaged about 120,000 since 1950, government data show. During post World War II economic expansions, the pace averaged about 174,000.

The last time payroll gains exceeded 500,000 was in May 2010. That increase, of 516,000 jobs, included about 411,000 temporary workers hired by the government to help conduct the 2010 census, according to figures from the Labor Department. Employment declined by 167,000 the following month, when some of those workers were dismissed.

After Strikes

The 500,000-jobs month before that, a 507,000 advance in September 1997, reflected the return of about 185,000 Teamsters Union members who had walked off their jobs at United Parcel Service Inc. a month earlier.

September 1983’s gain of 1.11 million jobs, the biggest one-month jump on record, exceeded Romney’s threshold only because it included about 640,000 AT&T Inc. employees who returned to work after a three-week strike.

“I don’t think that kind of job creation is likely to happen anytime soon, but I’m all for setting ambitious benchmarks to get the unemployment rate down,” said Josh Bivens, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington group that says it focuses on the economic condition of low- and middle-class Americans.

“To me, the bigger issue is who has policies that are more likely to do that, and I don’t think Romney has identified any,” Bivens said. “Nobody is putting policies on the table right now that would lead us to a rapid recovery.”

The jobless rate has exceeded 8 percent for 39 months, the longest streak of such elevated levels since the Great Depression.

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