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While campaigning for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke for the second time in nine days, Michelle Obama took time to praise the presidential virtues of her husband.
"By almost every economic measure, we are better off today than when Barack Obama took office. That is a fact," the first lady said Oct. 7, 2014 at the Overture Center for the Arts, near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
"Here is just some of the proof; some of the proof," she said, with dozens of students clad in Badgers-red arrayed on the stage behind her.
"Our businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs since 2010; that's including the 236,000 jobs created last month alone. And this is the longest uninterrupted run of private-sector job growth in our nation's history. Do you realize that? In our history."
Then Obama made a claim of particular interest to many of those on the stage and in the audience:
"The unemployment rate for young people is down from a 10.6 percent high in 2009 to 2.6 percent today."
Whatever sluggishness there might be in the nation's economy, the overall unemployment rate has been coming down.
But has the rate for young people dropped eight full points -- to just 2.6 percent -- in the past five years?
Attacking Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican nominee Mitt Romney claimed that under Obama, "youth unemployment" was double the overall unemployment rate -- that is, 16.4 percent for people ages 16 to 24, versus 8.2 percent for people ages 16 and up.
PolitiFact National rated the statement Half True.
The two figures were correct, but the phenomenon wasn’t unique to Obama’s presidency. Youth unemployment had been roughly double the overall rate for every month dating back to January 2001, when GOP President George W. Bush took office.
The first lady’s claim is slightly different than Romney’s in that she referred to young people not youth.
But, as we’ll see, she misfired on the numbers.
Sorting out the claim
The relevant part of a White House transcript of the first lady’s remarks reads as follows:
"The unemployment rate for young people is down from a 10.6 percent high in 2009 to 2.6 [6.2] percent today."
The brackets indicate Obama transposed the numbers when she spoke.
But even if 6.2 percent was the rate she meant to cite, the age group of the young people she talked about still wasn’t clear.
After we exchanged several emails with The White House, a spokeswoman for the first lady eventually told us that Obama was referring to the unemployment rates for people ages 25 to 34 -- "a good proxy for young people out of school."
Many folks would consider people in that age group young.
Then again, many of the college students who saw the first lady in Madison might think 34 sounds kinda old.
In any case, here from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are the seasonally adjusted September unemployment rates for various age groups in 2009, the first year Obama cited, and 2014. The September figures are the latest figures available for 2014.
September 2009 unemployment rate
September 2014 unemployment rate
Overall (ages 16 and up)
*Note: The high rate for all of 2009 was 10.6 percent, in October.
So, for people ages 16 to 24, and for those ages 25 to 34, unemployment was considerably lower in September 2014 than it was five years earlier.
But not as low as what Obama said in her speech.
The first lady said: "The unemployment rate for young people is down from a 10.6 percent high in 2009 to 2.6 percent today."
But the latest figures, for September 2014, show the rates were considerably higher for two groups that could be considered young: 13.7 percent for people ages 16 to 24, and 6.2 percent for those ages 25 to 34.
We rate the statement False.
WISC-TV, video of Michelle Obama remarks in Madison (quote at 17:15), Oct. 7, 2014
The White House, transcript of of Michelle Obama remarks in Madison, Oct. 7, 2014
Email interview, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications to the First Lady MC Gonzalez Noguera, Oct. 8, 2014
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, unemployment rates 25 to 34 years
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, civilian unemployment rates
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Michelle Obama rallies crowd in campaign stop for Mary Burke," Oct. 7, 2014
PolitiFact National, "Mitt Romney says youth unemployment rate is double what it is for all Americans," April 26, 2012
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "July unemployment rate, persons 16 to 24 years of age, by sex, 1948–2009 (not seasonally adjusted)"
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor force statistics from the current population survey," Oct. 3, 2014
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, monthly unemployment rates for age 16 and over through September 2014, Oct. 9, 2014
Interview and email interview, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker, Oct. 9, 2014
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