After the release of the September employment report today, Mitt Romney said:
"There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month, and the unemployment rate, as you know, to this year has come down very, very slowly, but it's come down nonetheless. The reason it's come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work, and if you just drop out of the workforce, if you just give up and say, 'Look, I can't go back to work. I'm just gonna stay home,' if you just drop out altogether, why, you're no longer part of the employment statistics, so it looks like unemployment's getting better, but the truth is if the same share of people were participating in the workforce today as on the day the president got elected, why, our unemployment rate would be around 11 percent."
He is about half right. If the labor force participation rate was exactly what it was when Obama came into office the unemployment rate would be nearly 11 percent. But economists say that the labor force is shrinking not just because people are too discouraged to look for work, but also because there is a surge in baby boomers retiring and people are staying in school longer. Democrats, of course, love to point out that more boomers are retiring and that people getting more education is a good thing, which is true. But it is also true that many people are not in the labor force because they don't think they can find work.
So the unemployment rate is not down "primarily" because people have stopped looking, but it is one of the factors affecting the rate during Obama's years in office.
Though when comparing today's number to the unemployment rate in August the labor force participation rate was actually up: 63.6 percent of working-age Americans compared with 63.5 percent in August. People came into the labor force and the unemployment rate still moved lower.
And when Romney said:
"September saw the addition of 114,000 jobs, according to the report, a decrease from the 142,000 that were added in August."
He is right but it's a bit of an apples and oranges comparison because he is taking the August revised number and comparing it to the September initial estimate. The August initial estimate was 96,000 and today was revised to 142,000. It's entirely possible that today's figure will be revised to show more job growth next month.
Though on the whole employment growth in 2012 has been slower than 2011 - an average of 146,000 jobs per month compared to an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.
BOTTOM LINE is about the same as it has been in previous months. We have had anemic job growth for several months, which can't even keep up with population growth. But it is consistent growth nonetheless after a period when the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month.