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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders July 19, 2011

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says unemployment streak is worst since Great Depression

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio accused President Barack Obama of making "every aspect of life in America today" worse since his inauguration during a talk about the debt ceiling on CBS's "Face the Nation" on July 17, 2011.

Host Bob Schieffer asked Rubio if he literally meant what he said, so Rubio continued:

"Well, first of all, let -- every president has to be judged by the times in which he lives. This president has now been in charge for two and a half years, okay? He has increased federal spending by 28 percent. Washington went along with his prescription for joblessness, which was the stimulus package, and unemployment is higher than it was when he took over, significantly higher. In fact, we have not had unemployment this high for this long since the Great Depression, with no signs of it getting better."

We noticed Rubio evokes a popular historical note of Republicans -- the Great Depression -- to characterize the country's dire jobs outlook. He isn't the first politician to link now with then, though he might be the first whose claim has a ring of truth.

Previously, PolitiFact gave GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney a False for saying the United States is in the slowest job recovery since President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933). And Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus earned a similar False rating for claiming that recent unemployment rates rival those of the Great Depression.

Rubio's claim comes with an important distinction. Instead of comparing recent jobless numbers with the 1930s, he says we have not had unemployment this high for this long since the Great Depression. Unemployment during that time was dreadful, as we've outlined before, rising to 15.9 percent in 1931 and then shooting up to 24.9 percent in 1933. It returned to 9.9 percent in 1941.

Unemployment figures for the current recession first tipped above 9 percent in May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rates mostly fell between 9 and 10.1 percent for the past 26 months, with the exception of dips in February (8.9) and March 2011 (8.8). The rate for June 2011 is 9.2 percent.

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How does that compare to other periods of time since the Great Depression?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics only has unemployment data going back to 1948, which means we cannot analyze unemployment statistics from the years surrounding World War II. (We know, however, that unemployment was abnormally low during that time because of the war effort.)

But since 1948, only one period of time comes close. Unemployment rates of 9 percent of more appeared in the United States in March 1982 and lasted through September 1983. During that 19-month period, the unemployment ranged between 9 and 10.8 percent -- including 10 straight months of unemployment rates higher than 10 percent.

During the most recent economic downturn, the only time the unemployment rate nosed above 10 percent was for one month, in October 2009.

So the current economic downturn has a longer period of unemployment rates above 9 percent, but the 1982-83 recession had overall higher unemployment rates.

No other period in modern U.S. history compares.

Rubio is right on about the country's current unemployment outlook not being "this high for this long since the Great Depression." But he fails to note a comparable period in the early '80s that -- while shorter by seven months -- had several months of higher overall unemployment. We rate Rubio's statement Mostly True.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says unemployment streak is worst since Great Depression

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