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Mitt Romney Uses Alternate Unemployment Rate During Debate

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during Tuesday’s debate that fewer people are working since Obama took office, and that the unemployment rate would be much higher than it is if people had not dropped out of the labor force.

"We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office," Romney said.

Romney’s correct: There are fewer people working. There were 133.561 million jobs in January 2009, when Obama took office, but just 133.5 million in September, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The BLS does not consider a month-to-month change of less than 100,000 to be statistically significant in its Current Employment Statistics survey.) Nevertheless, the number of payroll employees has recovered from its February 2010 low of slightly fewer than 130 million.

Romney also said the unemployment rate, currently at the same level as when Obama took office in January 2009, would be a lot higher if the labor force participation rate had not decreased. It's a talking point Romney used in response to news earlier this month that the national unemployment rate had fallen below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009.

“If the -- the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took office, it's 7.8 percent now,” Romney said on Tuesday. “But if you calculated that unemployment rate, taking back the people who dropped out of the workforce, it would be 10.7 percent. We have not made the progress we need to make to put people back to work."

Romney is correct that the unemployment rate would be higher if the labor force participation rate had not declined since 2009. But not all of the decline owes to the bad economy -– economists at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank estimated this year that a portion owes to the long-running trend of Baby Boomers retiring.

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