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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 24, 2012

Mitt Romney says there are “25 million Americans out of work”

During the Jan. 23, 2012, Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., Mitt Romney said that "we have 25 million Americans out of work." But he’s not correct.

Officially, there were about 13.1 million unemployed Americans in December 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s official source of employment statistics. This is the number that’s used to calculate the official unemployment rate, which during that month was 8.5 percent.

But 13.1 million is only about half of what Romney claimed. What’s going on?

Here’s the explanation.

Some critics have long argued that the BLS definition of unemployment is too limiting, since it doesn’t count people who have stopped looking for work or who are working part time, even though they’d prefer a full-time job. So BLS also offers an alternative measure (known to economists as "U-6") that factors in both groups.

Using this measure, BLS in December 2011 found an additional 2.6 million Americans who are "marginally attached" to the labor force, meaning they’d be ready to work if a job became available, and another 8.1 million Americans who are working part time but who would prefer a full-time job.

Together, these three categories added up to 23.8 million people in September 2011, for a total "U-6" rate of 15.2 percent, or well above the official unemployment rate.

So Romney is a little high for the broader statistic -- 25 million as opposed to 23.8 million -- but he’s in the ballpark. The question is whether it’s fair to describe these roughly 25 million people as "out of work."

To make the definition work, you have to include the 8.1 million Americans who are "working only part-time for economic reasons." These people would certainly rather have a full-time job. However, we don’t think it’s accurate to describe them as "out of work."

Our ruling

While the U-6 measurement is not the official gauge of unemployment in the United States, it’s a valid statistic to consider in conjunction with others. However, Romney’s use of the term "out of work" seems to be a stretch when about one-third of the "25 million Americans out of work" are actually working part-time. On balance, we rate the statement Half True. 

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Mitt Romney says there are “25 million Americans out of work”

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