Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney moved to undercut the latest U.S. jobs report showing unemployment at its lowest rate since President Barack Obama assumed office, saying the true number is much worse.
Romney’s comments to more than 6,000 people in Apopka, Florida, came the day after new Labor Department data showed an unexpected drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since Obama took office in January 2009.
“If we calculated, by the way, our unemployment rate in a way that was consistent with the way it was calculated when he came into office, it would be a different number,” Romney said tonight. “You see, if the number of people -- if the percentage of the American population who were in the workforce were the same today as the day he was elected, our unemployment rate would be above 11 percent. This is inexcusable.”
Romney appeared to be referring to the workforce-participation rate, which was 63.6 percent last month, compared with 65.7 percent in January 2009. That figure isn’t incorporated into the monthly unemployment number released by the government, and wasn’t before Obama took office.
The penultimate jobs report before the Nov. 6 election took on outsized significance in the presidential race, in which Obama’s economic record and Romney’s claim to have the business experience to do better at creating jobs are central themes.
When the data were released yesterday, Jack Welch, the former chief executive officer of General Electric Co., touched off an Internet-based frenzy by suggesting on Twitter that Obama’s team lowered the country’s unemployment rate to give the president a political boost after a lackluster debate performance on Oct. 3 against Romney.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers... these Chicago guys will do anything... can’t debate so change numbers,” Welch wrote.
The charge was picked up by Arizona Senator John McCain and Florida Representative Allen West, both Republicans.
Economists, including one who once advised McCain, dismissed the suggestion that U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics would, or even could, manipulate the data, and Romney campaign aides said yesterday they weren’t disputing the numbers.
Romney contends that the reason for the decline in the unemployment rate is primarily that people unable to find work have abandoned their search and left the workforce -- not that jobs are being created. Yet the latest report said the portion of the population either employed or actively applying for jobs, which in August reached its lowest level since 1981, rose last month.