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Jobs are a major concern in Ohio's 6th Congressional District, which stretches along the state's southeast border from Youngstown to the southernmost counties in Appalachia.
That means job creation is again a leading campaign issue in the rematch between Rep. Bill Johnson, the incumbent elected in the Republican sweep of 2010, and Charlie Wilson, the Democrat he unseated.
Johnson raises the issue when he meets with voters, and he mentioned it in June in one of the telephone town halls he uses to keep in touch with his sprawling district.
"I don't know if you realize this or not," he told a caller, "but the state of Ohio has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation right now and is leading the pack in terms of job creation."
PolitiFact Ohio was interested because its positive tone seemed to contrast with a comment the congressman said, days later: "We have to put America back to work."
We asked his office for supporting sources. In a written statement, Johnson said, "Because I talk to so many people in eastern and southeastern Ohio, I know that we need to make much more progress in job creation." He blamed current economic conditions on what he called "the job-killing policies" of the Obama administration.
"I often give dozens of speeches and talks a week, rarely relying on a script," he said. "While my precise wording certainly could have been better, the essence of my point is the same one The Plain Dealer's PolitiFact made just a few months ago."
He cited PolitiFact Ohio's fact check of April 5, on Gov. John Kasich's statement that Ohio was "the No. 1 job creator in America in February, and we are now the No. 4 job creator in the last year."
We rated that statement as True.
But statistics are volatile. Kasich’s statement relied on job figures from several months before Johnson’s claim in his teleconference, so we checked the numbers again to see if it still holds up.
In discussing job creation, Kasich pointed to employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and to the news release issued by the BLS when it posted new numbers on March 30.
In February, the BLS said, the nation's largest over-the-month increase in employment and "largest statistically significant" job gain occurred in Ohio, which was up 28,300 jobs.
That was then.
In March, Ohio went from first to worst by losing 5,200 jobs, the country’s "largest over-the-month decrease in employment," according to the BLS. Another 2,000 jobs were lost in April.
Figures for May, which the BLS reported 10 days after Johnson spoke, showed that Ohio posted a gain of 19,600 jobs -- an increase second only to California's for the month.
A BLS economist told us that "lots of things can happen other than the economy" to affect job losses and gains over short period. They don't consider a one-month change significant, but prefer to look at longer trends -- such as Ohio's ranking 4th in job creation over a year.
We also looked at the state-by-state unemployment figures from BLS to see if Ohio does have "one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation."
The most recent BLS figures, for May, were released on June 15. They put Ohio's unemployment rate at 7.3 percent -- tied for 24th place with Arkansas and Missouri.
The figures for April, which were the latest available when Johnson spoke, had Ohio and Pennsylvania tied for 28th place with unemployment rates of 7.4 percent.
The latest unemployment rate was lowest in North Dakota, at 3 percent, and highest in Nevada, 11.6 percent.
At 24th or 28th, Ohio ranks in the middle, not among the lowest.
Ohio's rate has been on a downward trend and is below the national jobless rate of 8.2 percent. It also is lower than the rates in neighboring Michigan and Indiana, and lower than those of such large industrialized states as New York and Illinois.
What does it add up to?
Johnson conceded that his "precise wording certainly could have been better," and we agree.
His statement contains an element of truth. While Ohio is not "leading the pack" in job creation, it does rank among the top dogs in the longer-term measurement that Labor Department economists see as statistically significant.
But the statement ignores some critical facts.
Johnson cited job creation numbers from February, a month in which Ohio was tops in the nation. But monthly stats for March and April, both available at the time of his statement, showed Ohio losing jobs.
And while Ohio’s jobless rate has improved considerably since it rose above 10 percent in 2009 and 2010, it is not one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. It now is below the national average. But now and at the time of Johnson’s claim, the state was in the middle of the pack.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Johnson’s claim rates Mostly False.
Audio clip of Rep. Johnson, June 5, 2012
Ironton Tribune, "Local leaders take concerns to U.S. rep," June 17, 2012
Email from Michael Tadeo, spokesman for Rep. Bill Johnson, June 27, 2012
PolitiFact Ohio, "John Kasich says Ohio led all states for job creation in February," April 5, 2012
U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary," June 15, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "State and Area Employment, Hours, and Earnings," extracted July 9, 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Unemployment Rates for States," June 2012
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey"
Interview with BLS economist Justin West, July 9, 2012
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