Romney Highlights Job Losses Among Women

Mitt Romney says that more than 90 percent of the jobs lost since President Obama took office were jobs previously held by women. While technically accurate, Scott Horsley tells Robert Siegel that Romney's claim doesn't tell the whole story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Mitt Romney has long criticized President Obama for his handling of the economy, and in recent days his campaign has been highlighting job losses among women. It's a message punctuated by a striking statistic that he uses. Romney says 92.3 percent of the jobs lost on the president's watch were held by women. He has used that number over and over again. Here he is yesterday at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania.

MITT ROMNEY: The brunt of the burden of job losses during the Obama years has been suffered by women, and so this administration has some explaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo used to say.

SIEGEL: Well, Ricky Ricardo is not available so we've turned for an explanation to NPR's Scott Horsley. Hi-ya.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Scott, that's a very striking number. How exactly did the Romney campaign come up with the number of over 90 percent of the jobs lost during the last three years were women's jobs?

HORSLEY: Well, here's how the campaign arrived at that figure, Robert. Remember, the U.S. economy has actually been adding jobs for the last year and a half, but we're still not back to the point where we were in January of 2009, when President Obama took office. We're still about 740,000 jobs short.

Now, if you just look at the number of women who are working today, that's down about 683,000 from where it was in January of '09. If you divide 683 into 740 that is 92 percent, so Romney's statement is not plucked out of thin air but it's not really the whole story either.

SIEGEL: No. If it's not the whole story, what's he leaving out?

HORSLEY: Well, one thing to keep in mind is the unemployment rate for women is still lower than it is for men. It's 8.1 percent for women last month, compared to 8.3 percent for men. And while January of 2009 was an important month on the political calendar, it just sort of falls in the middle of the economic downturn. By 2009, when President Obama came into office, the economy had already lost some four and a half million jobs. And those job losses were disproportionately among men.

I talked to an economist, Megan Barker at the Labor Department, who explained the recession didn't hit the whole economy all at once. It sort of rolled from one industry to another, beginning with construction and manufacturing.

MEGAN BARKER: So, historically we see that jobs in construction and manufacturing are held by males. More recently, we've seen more jobs being lost in education and health services and in government, which historically is where women tend to hold the majority of jobs.

HORSLEY: So even after the private sector began adding jobs back, job losses have continued in the government sector, as local governments dealt with their budget deficits. A lot of those jobs that were lost were teachers. And a lot of those teachers were women.

SIEGEL: So how much blame does President Obama deserve for that?

HORSLEY: Well, the administration would say we would have seen even bigger losses at the local government level, even more teacher jobs lost had it not been for the economic stimulus plan that he pushed for. Of course, that money ran out at the end 2010. Since then, the president has been pushing for billions of dollars in additional aid to keep teachers in the classroom, but Congress has not been willing to go along.

The one encouraging sign is that we've begun to see the layoffs at the state and local government level taper off in recent months. And so, what we're really seeing is women sort of felt the recession later and now they're feeling the recover later.

SIEGEL: Scott, there's an obvious political context here, this argument of Mitt Romney that 92 percent of the jobs lost on President Obama's watch have been women's jobs. This comes after the Romney campaign has noticed a serious drop in his support among women.

HORSLEY: Yes, we've seen a number of recent polls showing Romney trailing President Obama by double digits with women voters. Now, since 1980, women voters have tended to lean Democratic but not this far. It could be that the recent controversy we've seen over birth control has been a turnoff for some women.

And so, now that we have the general election card sort of all set, we're going to see the Romney campaign reaching out to women, trying to mend fences, and drive a wedge between women and President Obama. This numbers game is a part of that effort.

Of course, the Obama campaign is not taking that lying down. The White House held a conference last week on women and the economy. And they like to stress that the first bill that the president signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which makes it...

SIEGEL: Equal pay...

HORSLEY: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...for women.

Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley.

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