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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 23, 2010

"Mourning in America" ad echoing Reagan classic gets its numbers right

On Sept. 21, 2010, a group called Citizens for the Republic unveiled a television ad called "Mourning in America," that mirrored, right down to its understated visuals and narration, a famous Ronald Reagan ad from his 1984 re-election campaign titled "Morning in America." Whereas the original ad exuded confidence and pride in the United States under Reagan's leadership, the new version -- aired by a group run by veterans of the Reagan administration -- presented a bleak look at the current state of the economy and a tone of sadness about the country's seemingly diminished prospects.

"There's mourning in America," the ad begins. "Today, 15 million men and women won't have the opportunity to go to work. Businesses shuttered. Twenty-nine hundred families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall. This afternoon, 6,000 men and women will be married, each of their children to be born with a $30,000 share of the runaway national debt."

We won't judge whether these statistics support the idea that the country is "fading," that President Barack Obama's policy has "failed" or the ad's exhortation to vote for a "smaller, more caring government." But we will look at each of the statistics mentioned in the ad. (The ad was put together by Fred Davis, a leading Republican ad-man. We discuss some of the ads he made this year in a story posted today.)

"Fifteen million men and women won't have the opportunity to go to work." According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, there were 14.9 million unemployed Americans in August. Close enough for us.

"Twenty-nine hundred families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall." According to RealtyTrac, the leading authority on foreclosure statistics, "lenders foreclosed on 95,364 U.S. properties in August (2010), the highest monthly total in the history of the report." If you divide that total by 31 days, you get 3,076 foreclosures per day. That's actually a little more than the ad indicates.

"This afternoon, 6,000 men and women will be married." This statistic was presumably included so the current ad would mirror the script of the one from 1984, which cited the then-rate of 6,500 marriages per day as evidence that couples were heading optimistically into the future. Since then, marriage rates have dropped, though it's not clear how much of this is due to economic conditions, as opposed to broader social and demographic trends.

The most recent figures from the National Center for Health Statistics, a federal agency, show that there were 2,077,000 marriages in 2009. Dividing this total by 365 days, you get 5,690 marriages per day. That's a little lower than what the ad says -- by about 5 percent. Also, those who are really picky may quibble that the number of marriages completed on weekdays is a lot lower than 6,000, and it's a lot higher on weekend days. Still, the ad is pretty close.

Each child born will have "a $30,000 share of the runaway national debt." At first, we were confused by this statistic because our reading of the ad's wording suggested that it should involve how many children were going to be born to couples who got married this year. But it turns out this statistic is much simpler than that. The ad writers divided the total estimate for the public debt at the end of 2010 ($9,297,653,000,000) by the total U.S. population (307,006,550) and came out with $30,286 for every man, woman and child.

In a recent item, we discussed the relative merits of two different measures for the national debt. One is debt held by the public (which the makers of "Mourning in America" used, and the other is that amount plus debt held by the government, typically in trust funds for major government programs, including Social Security and Medicare. When we asked economists for their opinion of which measurement is more relevant, each of the two statistics had its fans, so we concluded that both are legitimate measurements. For completeness, we'll note here that using the larger figure, called gross federal debt, the per-person debt load would be just shy of $45,000, which would only make the ad's argument stronger.

Put it all together and you have four statistics that are all very, very close to being accurate. So we rate the facts in the ad True.

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Our Sources

Citizens for the Republic, "Mourning in America" (ad), Sept. 21, 2010

Ronald Reagan for President, "Morning in America" (ad), 1984

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey" (main search page)

RealtyTrac, "Foreclosure Activity Increases 4 Percent in August" (news release), Sept. 16, 2010

National Center for Health Statistics, "Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2009," Aug. 27, 2010

U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. population for 2009, accessed Sept. 23, 2010

Office of Management and Budget, president's budget for fiscal year 2011 (Table 7.1 -- Federal Debt at the End of Year, 1940-2015), accessed Sept. 23, 2010

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"Mourning in America" ad echoing Reagan classic gets its numbers right

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