Early in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, President Barack Obama answered a question from a young voter seeking reassurance that he will be able to find a job after he graduates.
Obama responded in part, "And what I want to do is build on the 5 million jobs that we've created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone."
Job-creation statistics have been bitterly contested terrain between the campaigns this election cycle, with each trying to frame the question in a way that paints their side most favorably.
For example, Mitt Romney’s campaign ran an ad recently that said, "Since President Obama took office, there are over 450,000 more unemployed women." We rated that statement Half True, because the number was correct by one method, but way off by others.
Obama’s claim from the debate suffers from the same problem.
If you start at the low point in the private-sector job market -- February 2010, which is 31 months ago -- then Obama has presided over the net creation of 4.7 million jobs.
But that means starting the count more than a year after Obama took office, which -- a little too conveniently for the president -- removes all of the job losses from his first year off his ledger.
Another way of doing it would be to start with January 2009, when Obama was sworn in. By this count, the nation has gained a net 514,000 private-sector jobs -- an amount only one-tenth the size of what Obama claimed. However, this method has its drawbacks, because no president can have much impact in the first few months on the job.
A middle-ground position is to start the count at the official beginning of the recovery, which came in June 2009. From June 2009 until today, the nation has gained roughly 3.6 million private-sector jobs. That’s less than Obama claims, but more than the inauguration-day calculation the Romney camp often prefers.
It's also worth noting that economists say that presidents have a relatively modest impact on the ups and downs of jobs, so it can be a stretch to give Obama either credit for good job numbers or blame for weak job numbers.
A final note: Private-sector job numbers are a credible yardstick, but they do paint a more favorable picture for the president than total job numbers do, since government jobs have been shrinking in recent years. Since June 2009, the nation has gained a little under 3 million total jobs, compared to 3.6 million using private-sector jobs alone.
Obama said that his administration has created "5 million jobs … over the last 30 months in the private sector alone." That’s true only using the most cherry-picked time frame. A more reasonable method -- starting the count at the beginning of the recovery -- shows a gain of 3.6 million jobs.
That’s still a substantial number, but well short of the 5 million Obama claimed.
We rate the statement Half True.