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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers September 18, 2012
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney says half of students can't get a job out of college

Secretly recorded video of Mitt Romney grabbed attention on Sept. 17, 2012, primarily for his claim that 47 percent of Americans "believe they are victims" entitled to government help.

But there’s more to the video snippets of Romney speaking privately to big Florida donors in Boca Raton. As the Republican presidential candidate explained his approach to wooing independent voters, he reeled off a series of statistics about the disappointing economy.

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"The best success I have at speaking with those people is saying, you know, the president has been a disappointment. He told you he'd keep unemployment below 8 percent. Hasn't been below eight percent since. Fifty percent of kids coming out of school can't get a job. Fifty percent. Fifty percent of the kids in high school in our 50 largest cities won't graduate from high school. What're they gonna do? These are the kinds of things that I can say to that audience that they nod their head and say, ‘Yeah, I think you're right.’"

We’re checking several statements from Romney’s remarks on May 17, 2012, but here we’re asking whether, "Fifty percent of kids coming out of school can't get a job."

Fifty percent of kids

Romney has made similar remarks on the campaign trail before, and his campaign has pointed us to articles by the Associated Press and that each address the bleak job market for 2012 college graduates.

The key piece of evidence is from the Associated Press article, "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed." It’s 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."

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.

In August, PolitiFact checked with Andrew Sum, the Northeastern professor who did the research. Sum agreed with our analysis.

Romney would have been more accurate if he had phrased his claim the way he did on other occasions, when he said "half the kids coming out of college this year … can't find a job, or a job that's consistent with 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.

While Romney glossed over details when he spoke with donors, painting a darker picture than supported by the research, he did get the tone right: At 53.6 percent, the number of college graduates unemployed or underemployed is the highest it’s been in at least 11 years.

Our ruling

Romney told campaign donors that "50 percent of kids coming out of school can't get a job." He missed a key qualifier -- according to the 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 research shows the employment picture for college grads is grimmer than at any time in more than a decade. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Mother Jones, "SECRET VIDEO: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters," Sept. 17, 2012

Mother Jones, "Mitt Romney on Treating Obama Gingerly," Sept. 17, 2012, via YouTube (1:10)

PolitiFact, Republican Jewish Coalition says half of recent college grads "can't find a job," Aug. 2, 2012 (Mostly True)

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney is right, getting a job right out of college can be tricky business," Aug. 27, 2012 (True)

Email interview with Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, Aug. 22, 2012

Email interview with Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Aug. 1, 2012

Associated Press, 1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed, April 22, 2012., Fewest Young Adults in 60 Years Have Jobs, Feb. 9, 2012.

Huffington Post, "Mitt Romney Explains '47 Percent' Leak: 'Victims' Comment Not Elegantly Stated," Sept. 17, 2012

National Journal, "Romney: All of Obama's Supporters Want Government Handouts," Sept. 17, 2012

PolitiFact, "Romney repeats claim that Obama promised unemployment would not exceed 8 percent," Sept. 18, 2012

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Mitt Romney says half of students can't get a job out of college

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