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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 3, 2010

John Boehner says unemployment has exceeded 9 percent for two years running

On the Aug. 1, 2010, edition of Fox News Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to crystallize how bad the current job picture is. "This is the first time since the depression that unemployment has stayed above 9 percent for two consecutive years," Boehner told host Chris Wallace.

We decided to check whether Boehner was right.

We looked at the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency responsible for calculating the national unemployment rate. It showed that unemployment has been 9 percent or higher for 14 months running, from May 2009 to June 2010. That's well short of the two years Boehner suggested. And before the downturn, it never got close to being as bad as Boehner claims.

BLS' searchable figures go back to 1948, so we looked through the full data to find historical comparisons. Since 1948, there have only been two periods prior to the current stretch when unemployment exceeded 9 percent. There was a one-month blip in May 1975, and then a 19-month period between March 1982 and September 1983 when unemployment never dipped below 9 percent.

Pre-1948 data is not as comprehensive, but a BLS study shows that things were far, far worse during the Great Depression. The estimated annual unemployment rates stayed above 9 percent for more than a decade -- from 1931 to 1941. Between 1932 and 1935, the unemployment rate exceeded 20 percent in each year.

We considered the possibility that Boehner might have simply misspoken, intending to say that unemployment had exceeded 8 percent for two consecutive years. But that isn't correct either. If you go back a full two years, the unemployment rate in July 2008 was 5.8 percent. From today's vantage point, that seems like a whole lifetime ago.

So any way you look at it, Boehner's statistic was wrong. We rate his statement False.

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John Boehner says unemployment has exceeded 9 percent for two years running

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