FACT CHECK: Romney's skewed case on women's jobs

April 11, 2012 - 5:48 PM
Romney 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, holds a flyer as he speaks in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Romney is intensifying his rebuttal of claims that he and fellow Republicans are insufficiently supportive of women, or even hostile to them. For the second straight day the presumptive GOP nominee campaigned Wednesday at a female-owned work site and denounced Democrats for saying his party is waging "a war on women." (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney has come up with an "amazing statistic" and Republicans inside and outside his presidential campaign are doing their utmost to spread it around: "92.3 percent of all the jobs lost during the Obama years have been lost by women."

Amazing it may be. As a meaningful measure of Obama's economic record and its effect on women, though, it is dubious at best.

Romney's math is solid as far as it goes. But more men than women have lost jobs since the recession began — that's why economists called it a "man-cession."

In blaming Obama for "turning the clock back 20 years on American women," as the Romney campaign puts it, Republicans are hoping to counter Obama's perceived advantage with female voters. But they ignore how recessions generally — and the last one in particular — unfold, and they hold Obama accountable for the state of the economy from the time he took office, before his policies could make any difference.

"This is political gaming," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, a financial services company. "You can play a lot games with statistics — both sides are doing it."

A look at the claim and how it compares with the facts:

ROMNEY: "This is an amazing statistic. The percentage of jobs lost by women in the president's three years, three and a half years — 92.3 percent of all the jobs lost during the Obama years have been lost by women." — Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday.

LANHEE CHEN, Romney campaign policy director, on the Obama administration Wednesday: "They've done a tremendous amount of damage to American women in this economy."

THE FACTS: The deep recession that began 13 months before Republican George W. Bush left the White House hit men harder than women at the beginning. Recessions often do that because male-dominated enterprises such as construction and manufacturing tend to be the first to tumble in a downturn. Eventually, sectors with more women in the work force follow suit, and that happened mostly after Obama took office.

In the recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 — with high unemployment lingering to this day — the crisis in the financial sector and bursting of the housing bubble accentuated the damage to jobs held primarily by men. "The initial losses were even more male-dominated than normal because of the nature of the recession," Swonk said.

Women were more heavily represented in jobs that suffered in the recession's later months and beyond, as revenue-strapped state and local governments laid off teachers and cut other public-sector workers.

Romney's claim is based on statistics showing the number of unemployed women grew by 858,000 since January 2009, Obama's inauguration month. But it ignores the disproportionate hit on men the year before Obama became president — and their greater job losses overall.

Some 3.4 million men and 1.8 million women have lost jobs since the recession started, according to the government.

When Obama took office, unemployment for men (8.6 percent) was already sharply higher than for women (7 percent). The rate peaked for men at 11.2 percent in October 2009 and for women at 9 percent a month later.

Since then, the gap has nearly closed. Last month, the rate was 8.3 percent for men and 8.1 percent for women.

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AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.