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The Republican Jewish Coalition recently launched a $6.5 million series of ads targeting voters who have "buyers remorse" about voting for President Barack Obama in 2008. Florida will be seeing these ads in heavy rotation: About a quarter of the ad spending is being earmarked for the Sunshine State, which is home to a large population of Jewish senior citizens whose support is highly sought after by both political parties.
One of the ads features comments by Michael Goldstein, who is identified on screen as a "Democrat. Jewish. Voted for Obama." Goldstein criticizes several aspects of Obama’s presidency, including several concerns about his policy toward the Middle East. But Goldstein also takes on Obama’s economic record.
At one point, Goldstein said that "one out of every two kids who are graduating college right now can't find a job." We wondered if that was correct, so we looked into it.
We reached out to the coalition, but they did not get back to us. However, we found some research that we believe was the source of the comment. It was an article by the Associated Press that got wide play when it hit the wires on April 22, 2012. The headline, at least in some publications, was, "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed."
The article is based on research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which in turn is based on data from the federal Current Population Survey, as well as Labor Department measures of what level of education is required to perform each of some 900 jobs.
Here’s how the AP summarized the findings:
"A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge. Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs – waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example – and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans. ...
"About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed. … Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year."
Upon reading this, we concluded that the speaker in the ad had garbled the statistic a bit.
Rather than roughly half of recent college grads not being able to find a job, the reality is that about 50 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or employed in jobs that aren’t commensurate with their degree. Of this 50 percent figure, about half are unemployed and about half are in jobs that don’t require a college degree.
To make sure our interpretation was correct, we checked with Andrew Sum, the Northeastern professor who did the research. Sum agreed with our analysis and said "the numbers being cited in the ad are not correct."
The ad would have been more accurate if the claim had been phrased this way: "One out of every two kids who are graduating college right now can't find a job or can’t find one that requires a college degree."
We also think there’s an additional piece of context worth mentioning. Viewers shouldn’t compare this 50 percent rate to the more familiar unemployment rate, which is currently at 8.5 percent. The reality is that even in strong economic times, a sizable percentage of recent college grads is either unemployed or employed in jobs below their abilities.
According to the AP, the record low was still pretty high at 41 percent, in 2000 -- "before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and (information technology) fields." That’s far higher than the more familiar unemployment statistic for the overall population ever gets.
Still, there’s reason to be concerned about the current rate: At 53.6 percent, it’s the highest it’s been in at least 11 years.
The ad claims that "one out of every two kids who are graduating college right now can't find a job." That’s not quite right -- according to Sum’s research, about a quarter of recent college grads literally can’t find a job, while another quarter have found a job, but one that doesn’t require a college degree.
Still, the actual statistic does support the ad’s point -- that the employment picture for college grads is grimmer than at any time in more than a decade. We rate the claim Mostly True.
Republican Jewish Coalition, "Michael" (ad), June 18, 2012
Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Republican Jewish Coalition's 'Buyer's Remorse' ads to run in FL in September," July 30, 2012
Associated Press, "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed," April 22, 2012
Email interview with Karen L. Conner, assistant media relations director at the Economic Policy Institute, Aug. 1, 2012
Email interview with Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Aug. 1, 2012
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