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For the third time in recent weeks, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has released an "infographic" that criticizes President Barack Obama’s jobs record for key demographic groups. First came women, then Hispanics, and now youth.
One of its claims got our attention: "The youth unemployment rate is double the unemployment rate for all Americans." The graphic goes on to say that the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent overall and 16.4 percent for youth.
When we looked at data compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, we found that these numbers referred to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Americans 16 years and older (the category the graphic calls "all") and ages 16 to 24 (the category it calls "youth").
We confirmed that those numbers are correct. However, we wondered the 2-to-1 ratio was unique to Obama.
It’s not. Not by a long shot.
We downloaded historical BLS unemployment rate data for the two age ranges, then divided the "all" number by the "youth" number. Going back to January 2001, the month President George W. Bush took office, the ratio of the two unemployment rates has been remarkably consistent.
Over that 135-month period, the ratio has barely budged, ranging only from 1.9 to 2.4. That’s essentially the same 2-to-1 ratio that the Romney graphic used to criticize Obama’s record on youth jobs.
In other words, the two statistics essentially move in lockstep, regardless of whether the broader job market is in a period of modest growth, general stability or precipitous decline.
In fact, if you average together all the monthly ratios under Obama, it’s lower than it was under Bush. The average ratio under Obama was 1.9, compared to 2.2 under Bush.
While it’s accurate to say the two unemployment figures are in a 2-to-1 ratio today, "it’s a meaningless, or perhaps misleading, statistic for people who are unaware that the youth unemployment rate is always well above the unemployment rate of people 25 and older," said Gary Burtless, a labor and employment economist at the Brookings Institution. (Burtless contributed $750 to Obama’s campaign in 2011. However, in 2008 he provided advice on aspects of labor policy to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and he has worked as a government economist and served on federal advisory panels under presidents of both parties.)
Romney does have a point that younger Americans are suffering during the current recession.
We found that in January 2008 -- a year before Obama took office and right after the most recent recession began -- the unemployment rate for Americans 16 to 24 years of age was 11.7 percent. By January 2009, that had surged to 14.9 percent, and it surged again by January 2010 to 18.7 percent. By January 2011, it had begun to recover, dropping to 17.9 percent and falling again by January 2012 to 16.0 percent.
So the unemployment rate has recovered from its high point under Obama, but it’s still significantly above its pre-recession level.
Romney has a point that young Americans are hurting in today’s job market. There’s no question that employment prospects have dried up for many recent high-school and college graduates. But bolstering this argument by making the claim that the "youth unemployment rate is double the unemployment rate for all Americans" is silly, since that's consistently been the case under both President George W. Bush and Obama. We rate the claim Half True.
Mitt Romney for President, "Youth & The Obama Economy" (infographic), April 24, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main index page for Current Population Survey data, accessed April 26, 2012
Email interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, April 24, 2012
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