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Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee went on CNN April 12 after announcing that he was thinking about running for president.
CNN’s Dana Bash was ready for him.
After some discussion about issues such as the second war in Iraq and the shrinking middle class, Bash noted that Chafee had left office after only one term with an approval rating of just 25 percent.
Then she asked: "If you have that kind of low standing in your own state, how are you going to get support around the country?"
Chafee talked about the "tough times" that Rhode Island faced when he took office. And he said "every little thing was difficult" as he attempted to turn Rhode Island around by, in part, doing unpopular things like raising taxes and hiking beach fees.
"But, at the end, and that’s why I’m running, Rhode Island is better off," he said. "We had the biggest drop of unemployment, the rate of unemployment, of all but four states. That’s a great record of accomplishment."
We wondered if Rhode Island had experienced the "biggest drop of unemployment ... of all but four states" during Chafee's tenure.
But first we had to pin down the time period he was referring to.
Chafee’s spokeswoman, Debbie Rich, told us that the time period was from January 2011, when Chafee took office, through February 2015, covering the most recent unemployment report at the time of the CNN interview. And she pointed us to the unemployment rates for those months.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate for January 2011 was 11.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rate for February 2015, a preliminary number subject to change, was 6.3 percent when Chafee spoke.
So the difference between the higher rate and the lower one – the way Rich indicated that Chafee chose to figure the change – is 4.9 percentage points. (He could have, and maybe should have, measured the improvement as a percentage, but we’ll get to that later.)
So how did that drop of 4.9 percentage points compare with other states?
Only three other states, not four, had a bigger percentage point drop during the same time period, according to the numbers on file at the bureau as of April 20.
Two other states also had declines of 4.9 percentage points.
So with that timeframe, Chafee would have been correct to say: "We had the biggest drop of unemployment, the rate of unemployment, of all but three states."
Ok, so Chafee was off a bit.
But there's more than one way to gauge the drop in unemployment.
Instead of looking at the percentage point drop, you can calculate and compare the change as a percentage. We asked URI economist Leonard Lardaro, a leading expert on the condition of the Rhode Island economy, which method was better.
Lardaro says it is more legitimate to calculate and compare Rhode Island’s improvement as a percentage. That’s because Rhode Island had one of the highest unemployment rates to begin with, and therefore, improvements in percentage points are easier to come by.
As a percentage, Rhode Island’s drop from 11.2 percent to 6.3 percent is an improvement of 44 percent. That's pretty good. But 12 other states did better.
By that measure, Chafee was way off.
During his appearance on CNN, Chafee didn't specify how he was calculating his statistic, leaving his statement open for interpretation. Calculated in percentage points, Rhode Island’s ranking was better than he said. Calculated as a percentage, it was worse.
Because his statement contains some element of truth, if looked at one way, but falls apart if viewed in a different way, we rate it Mostly False.
CNN.com, "Chafee: Clinton didn't do her homework on Iraq," April 12, 2015
Emails, Debbie Rich, spokeswoman, Lincoln Chafee, April 17 and 20, 2015
BLS.gov, Local Area Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed April 20, 2015
Interview, Garrett Schmitt, senior economist, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 29 and May 5, 2015
Interview, Leonard Lardaro, economics professor, University of Rhode Island, May 4, 2015
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