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The federal government may have announced a good jobs report just days earlier, but Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wasn’t impressed with the state of the American labor market.
On the Feb. 8, 2015, edition of CNN’s State of the Union, host Dana Bash asked Cruz whether he would run for president. He responded:
"I think we're facing enormous challenges in this country. The Obama economy has led to the lowest labor force participation since 1978. Ninety-two million Americans aren't working. Obamacare is a train wreck. We're seeing our constitutional rights under assault. And abroad the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy is an unmitigated disaster. Leading from behind doesn't work.
We’ve previously checked a claim by Cruz that "we’ve got the lowest labor force participation in over three decades, since 1978." We rated that Mostly True at the time, and it’s still an accurate claim today. But we wondered whether Cruz was right that "92 million Americans aren't working." So we took a closer look.
In one sense, Cruz’s estimate is actually too low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 249.7 million non-institutionalized civilians 16 years of age and older last month. Of those, 148.2 million were employed, leaving 101.7 million not employed.
But neither Cruz’s 92 million figure nor the actual 101.7 million figure is especially meaningful -- because they lump in both the young and the old.
Of the 101.7 million people who are not employed, 37.5 million are age 65 and over -- an age when Medicare kicks in and many Americans head into retirement. Another 11.9 million are between 16 and 19, meaning they’re either high-school-age or starting college. And another 8 million are age 20 to 24, when many are in college or graduate school.
Combined, these groups account for 57.5 million Americans -- or more than three-fifths of the number Cruz cited.
Could one quibble with our calculation? Sure -- one could exclude the 20 to 24 category since not everyone that age is college-bound. And improving senior health means that Americans can effectively work past 65.
Still, we don’t see much justification for Cruz counting high-school-age kids (roughly 10 million) and Americans 75 and up (17.6 million). Even this far more restrictive definition leaves almost one-third of Cruz’s number questionable.
Another point worth noting: Just because someone in the prime working-age range (25 to 64) isn’t working doesn’t mean that they are unemployed. They may be disabled, taking care of children full-time or have gone back to school. The actual number of officially unemployed Americans in January was a little under 9 million -- just one-tenth of the figure Cruz cited as "not working."
Cruz said that "92 million Americans aren't working." Once you strip out senior citizens and school-age Americans, the number is less than half that. The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.
UPDATED, Feb. 11, 2015: After this fact-check was published, Cruz’s office got back to PolitiFact with sourcing for the statistic. The statistic, they said, came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- Table A-1, for the total civilian, non-institutionalized population not in labor force, seasonally adjusted, for January 2015. The total for that month was 92.5 million. Spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said that Cruz was "relying on objective federal labor statistics" in making his statement. However, our fact-check didn’t question the veracity of the BLS statistics – only their relevance to Cruz’s point. We continue to believe the statistic includes Americans too young and too old to be expected to work, and we stand by our rating of Mostly False.
Ted Cruz, interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Feb. 8, 2015
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey" (main index page), accessed Feb. 9, 2015
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University, Feb. 9, 2015
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