Early on Friday, Mitt Romney declared that a signal of a strong economy would be one creating roughly 500,000 jobs a month. The number was arbitrary; The Huffington Post reported that the United States economy had created half-a-million jobs a month only 16 times since 1939. And while there are certainly plenty of unemployed Americans eager to find work, the cupboard of short-term policy prescriptions is relatively bare with a divided government.
At a campaign stop later in the day, however, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee upped the stakes even further for what constitutes a recovered economy. Reflecting on the April job numbers, which showed the unemployment rate falling to 8.1 percent but roughly 12.5 million Americans still unemployed, he urged audience members to hold their applause.
"Normally, that would be cause for celebration, but anything near 8 percent or over 4 percent is not cause for celebration," said Romney.
The notion that the nation wouldn't celebrate a 4-percentage-point drop in the unemployment rate, which would bring it down to 4.1 percent, is, of course, absurd.
The United States hasn't had an unemployment rate below 4 percent since December 2000. During the Clinton administration, there were only five months when the unemployment rate was below that level, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Michael O'Brien of MSNBC, meanwhile, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts hit a low of 4.6 percent when Romney left office in January 2007. When he was the state's governor, it was 4.7 percent at its lowest point.
None of this, of course, takes into consideration the theory that an unemployment rate can fall too low. Widely debated during the end of the 1990s, the theory held that the labor market would tighten up, wages would rise, and inflation would follow suit. With that in mind, the "natural rate of unemployment" is considered to be roughly 6 percent.