WASHINGTON -- After the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday morning that the national unemployment rate had fallen below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009, several conservative politicians and commenters claimed that President Obama's administration had rigged the stats.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't say the data had been manipulated, but he did suggest the 7.8 percent unemployment rate is not accurate.
"If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent," Romney said in a morning statement.
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said Romney gets his number by applying the labor force participation rate from when Obama took office to today's population.
"The labor force participation rate in January 2009 was 65.7 percent," Williams said. Since then, the rate has fallen to 63.3 percent. "Had the rate remained the same, the labor force would be about 160,158,000. At that labor force level, the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent."
While campaigning in Virginia, Romney elaborated on his view of how labor force trends affect the jobless rate. "The reason it’s come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work," he said.
As BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller noted, the labor force has actually grown this year, and the jobless rate has declined because more people are working.
The labor force participation rate has declined since 2009, however, because workforce growth hasn't kept pace with overall population growth, which does push the unemployment rate down. But the decline is not solely due to people giving up on find work because they believe none is available, as Romney suggested.
In a recent study, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago found that the recent decline in labor force participation owes partly to the long-term and continuing trend of the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age.
"While a sizable portion of this drop is related to the deep recession and lackluster economic recovery of the past four years," the economists wrote, "we argue that just under half can be traced to longrunning demographic patterns."
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