When his campaign is not bashing Obama administration policy, Mitt Romney pledges his administration would create 12 million new jobs, something that resonates with the millions of Americans who are un- or underemployed.
It sounds like a big number, but Romney attaches no time frame to it. If he's talking about one year, that indeed would be spectacular. If that 12 million stretches over four years, not so much.
As former President Bill Clinton said last week, "It's all arithmetic."
The creation of 12 million jobs during a four-year administration would mean the creation of 3 million jobs a year, which breaks down to 250,000 jobs a month. University of Maryland economist Peter Morici, who generally supports Republican policies, says the economy needs to add 370,000 jobs a month for three years just to bring unemployment down to 6 percent, which is considered full employment.
"When President Obama ... took the stage at the Democratic Convention [in 2008], he promised Americans a better future with more jobs, lower bills and larger incomes. But after four years, it's clear the president just hasn't lived up to his promises," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a recent news release. "Jobs have declined, incomes have plummeted and household costs are skyrocketing."
The U.S. economy has gained more than 4 million private sector jobs since February 2010, when it is believed job losses bottomed out, but is still more than 1 million shy of where it was before the recession took hold, government statistics indicate. When job losses in the public sector are figured in, the number of job gains is far lower.
The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday reported unemployment 8.1 percent in August, adding just 96,000 jobs.
In its monthly report last week, payroll firm ADP said 201,000 jobs were added to private payrolls July to August, 185,000 of them in the service sector and 99,000 of them by small businesses, compared with 16,000 by large businesses.
"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple and pretty snappy: We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up, so fire him and put us back in," Clinton said in his nearly 50-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention, renominating Obama for president.
"I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash [and] began the long, hard road to recovery."
In its latest layoffs report, the Chicago outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas said August layoffs numbered the fewest since December 2010. Employers announced 32,239 layoffs last month, down 12.5 percent from July and 37 percent fewer than August 2011 though totals for the first eight months of this year are comparable to the same period last year. The June-August average was 35,548. That compares to the June-August average of 91,268 in 2008 the last summer of the Bush administration.
"Job cuts slowed significantly over the summer, but it is too early to determine whether this is a trend," Chief Executive Officer John A. Challenger cautioned.
"If international job-cut activity is any indication, we may see a surge in downsizing in the final months of 2012 and into 2013. We do not officially track job cuts announced by foreign companies, except those reporting a specific number of layoffs impacting U.S. workers. However, it has been hard to miss some of the recent figures coming from overseas companies."
Obama is not the only modern president to face a struggling economy. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, unemployment was on the rise, peaking at 10.8 percent in November 1982. The recovery then was much quicker, with joblessness falling to 7.3 percent by the time he faced re-election.
This time around, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.2 percent in October 2009.
What made the latest recession worse than that of the 1980s was the number of long-term unemployed, those who were unemployed for 27 weeks or more, now estimated at 6 million by the National Employment Law Project. PolitiFact.com said the average long-term unemployed had been out of work for 26.9 months in 2009. Also, personal income fell 1 percent during the most recent recession while it actually rose 5.4 percent during the recession that began during Jimmy Carter's tenure and took a second dip in the early Reagan administration.
And then there's the stock market. A far larger percentage of Americans have money in the market now than they did in the early 1980s, meaning a far greater number of people were affected by the crash, which saw the Dow Jones industrial average lose more than half its value, falling to 6,443.27 on March 6, 2009, from a high of 14,164.53 Oct. 9, 2007. The market currently stands above 13,000.
Real estate is another area of difference: During the early '80s, property values kept going up; in the current recession, values went down, putting millions of mortgages "underwater," and foreclosures soared.
"Here in America, families' wealth declined at a rate nearly seven times faster than when the market crashed in 1929," Obama said in an appearance earlier this summer. "Millions of homes were foreclosed. Our deficit soared. And 9 million of our citizens lost their jobs -- 9 million hardworking Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were forced to pay for the irresponsibility of others.
"In other words, this was not your normal recession."
Where Obama caught a break is inflation. The Reagan years saw inflation of 12.4 percent and interest rates as high as 20 percent creating a misery index (unemployment plus inflation) that peaked at 21.8 in June 1980 and hovered from 13.5 to 19.5 in the early Reagan years. With low inflation in the Obama years, the misery index peaked at 12.87 in August 2011 and in July stood at 9.71. August's index won't be available for a week when last month's inflation rate will be released.
Morici contrasts the Reagan and Obama recoveries, lauding Reagan's tax policy and trade stance. He faults Obama for not confronting China on currency manipulation, and limiting offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Slope of Alaska and Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
"Every dollar that goes to China or for imported oil that does not return to buy U.S. exports is lost demand for U.S.-made goods and services, and together those deficits are costing Americans 10 million jobs," Morici argues.
Morici is no fan of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, which were passed in response to the financial chicanery that led to the recession, either -- but not because he thinks regulations should be lifted. Morici said Dodd-Frank is forcing small banks to sell out to the Wall Street behemoths "where the deal-making, sharp practices and gambling continue seemingly unabated."