Once more, with spirit: Ohio has lost a whole lot of jobs.
It’s the chorus line of 2010, and if the Capital Steps were in Ohio they would sing it as an encore.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we heard a sonorous new version last week from congressional candidate and businessman Jim Renacci. The Wadsworth Republican, running against Democratic incumbent John Boccieri, said in opening remarks of a debate in Canton:
"Ladies and gentlemen, our country is going in the wrong direction. What we’ve learned is that over the last couple of years, Ohio has lost over 600,000 jobs." He added that "Since Mr. Boccieri has become a representative of the 16th District, unemployment has doubled."
That figure – 600,000 – is roughly double to triple the number that others have cited as they challenge Ohio Democrats holding office. The sums change depending on the month and year, but Renacci’s figure seemed outlandishly high to our numerically attuned ears.
That’s because it is.
Using figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we found that from January 2009, when Boccieri took office, through August 2010, the most recent month counted when Renacci made his claim, Ohio lost 176,400 jobs. New data that included September came out after the debate, and if counted it would put Ohio’s job losses during the current Congress at 194,300.
It would be impossible for Renacci’s number to be correct no matter how you measured "the last two years," unless BLS data – the gold standard for statisticians -- was off by 300-plus percent.
Perplexed, we asked Renacci’s spokesman, James Slepian, how his boss got his number. Slepian responded that while Renacci said the state has lost 600,000 jobs over the last couple of years, his number was actually in reference to Ohio’s unemployment rate, not its job losses. Stick with us here, because this is a distinction with a definite difference.
The unemployment rate measures the number and percentage of people at any given time who say they are out of work and are actively looking for a job. It doesn’t matter when they lost their jobs.
That’s different – and typically much higher -- from the number of jobs lost during a specific period, which is measured in a survey of employers.
If you counted every Ohioan looking for work, regardless of when he or she lost a job, the number would come to 601,145 as of August, which again was the most current number during the debate. It’s now come down a tad, to 590,809, BLS databases show..
That’s a lot of unemployed people, to be sure. But most of them were already out of work when Boccieri became a congressman. In fact, the number in Ohio was already 515,292 when Boccieri took his oath of office.
So while the trend continued while Boccieri has been in office, the magnitude is not the result of the last couple of years, as Renacci said, and in fact has shown a small reversal in recent months.
This brings us to Renacci’s related point – that since Boccieri "became a representative" of the 16th Congressional District, "unemployment has doubled."
No, it hasn’t.
This, too, can be measured a number of ways, and we tried a bunch.
We started by looking at the Canton-Massillon metropolitan statistical area since that’s the heart of the district’s population center. The current rate of unemployment there is 10.6 percent.
The number is nothing to cheer. But the rate was 10.2 when Boccieri took office, which is not even close to the doubling that Renacci claimed.
We asked Slepian to explain how his boss arrived at this claim, too. Slepian said that Renacci was not using just the Canton metro area but, rather, the four-county area that makes up his district: Stark, Wayne, Ashland and Medina counties.
With Slepian on the phone, we joined him in going over the numbers as we turned our respective cursors to the BLS databases. He noted accurately that in Stark County, the unemployment rate just before Boccieri’s election, in October 2008, was 6.8 percent. And in January 2010, it reached 13.6 percent, which is exactly double.
Two problems. First, Boccieri was sworn in in January, 2009, and Stark County’s unemployment rate was already 10.0 by then. Second, Renacci seemed to stop flipping through the calendar awfully early to get to his claim. Had he counted every month that Boccieri has been in office, he would have stopped at August 2010, the most recent month for which there is countywide data, rather than stopping in January.
Guess what? The unemployment rate for the most recent month available was 10.5 in Stark County, not 13.6. Things improved, it seems, when Renacci stopped counting.
We did the same kinds of calculations for the district’s three other counties, and the result were similarly at odds with Renecci’s doubling claim. In fact, were he to measure Ashland County alone, he’d have to say that on Boccieri’s watch, the unemployment rate actually went down, from 12.2 at the start to 10.4 in August.
This looked like a classic case of cherry picking the data to support a false claim, and we told Slepian as much. He maintained that statewide, the unemployment rate is higher than it was two years ago, and that no matter how you slice it, "there are 600,000 people out of work in the state." And he said that when looking at certain periods in the last two years – a month before Boccieri’s election (but three before his inauguration) and 12 months into his term -- "we did see it double" in the district’s biggest county.
"It’s an accurate statement to say that that’s what it went up to since he was elected to office," Slepian said.
Yes, it is, but only if you ignore the fact that it has come way down since Renacci stopped turning the calendar pages at exactly the right date to shore up his argument. To include months when an opponent wasn’t in office, and to stop counting when the unemployment numbers make your case, leaves out a massive amount of information and context.
Did we mention that Renacci is a CPA?
If we tried these tricks on our taxes, we could be treated to a heap of IRS trouble (although with a creative accountant, you never know). But the Truth-O-Meter does not assess tax penalties; it merely points its arrow to the only rating possible when a claim is inaccurate and its basis is distorted and contorted: Pants on Fire!
Once more, with spirit: Ohio has lost a whole lot of jobs.