Romney's jobs pipe dream

He got hammered for predicting he'd create 500,000 jobs per month, but his new goal isn't much more realistic

Published August 3, 2012 3:33PM (EDT)

In May, Mitt Romney responded to a modest jobs report showing the economy had created 115,000 jobs in April by saying that the U.S. should really be creating almost five times more. “We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery,” Romney told Fox News.

The press immediately jumped on his target of 500,000 jobs per month, noting that it was highly unrealistic. The economy had not created that many jobs in a single month since 1984, and just 10 times since 1950, mostly due to special circumstances like census hiring or strikers returning to work. “Every president makes statements as a candidate that he later comes to regret once he is in the White House. He finds himself held to a standard that sounded good on the campaign trail, but may not be realistic in office ... If Mitt Romney is elected this fall, he may look back at his comment Friday as one of those,” New York Times reporter Peter Baker wrote at the time of the jobs target.

Indeed, Romney quickly abandoned the number. Now, responding to today's jobs report,  Romney has set a new target. He slashed the old number in half and is now aiming to create 250,000 a month, or 12 million jobs in his first term. It’s a far more reasonable goal than his previous one in that it’s at least theoretically attainable, but it’s still very ambitious. Bill Clinton presided over one of the biggest economic expansions in history and only saw 11.5 million jobs created during his first term. And Clinton comes closest to Romney’s goal. Ronald Reagan, Romney’s free-market icon, created only 5.3 million jobs in his first term, and 16 million over two terms, when Romney would presumably be shooting for 24 million. Lyndon Johnson, the next biggest job creator going back to Harry Truman in the 1940s, according to the Wall Street Journal, created 11.9 million jobs -- about Romney’s goal -- but over his six years as president.

Using the Atlanta Fed’s job calculator to get a rough estimate of what Romney's plan would do to the unemployment rate, we see that consistent job creation at 250,000 per month over the 48 months would drive unemployment down to 3.4 percent, a rate we haven’t seen in over 40 years. (Clinton hit a low of 4.0 percent in 2000.)

Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard put out a white paper yesterday explaining the goal, but as the Huffington Post’s Jon Ward notes, “The paper was less actuarial work with raw data and specific numbers, however, and more of an economic philosophy argument based largely on the premise that simply by undoing much of what President Obama has done since taking office, the economy would recover at a faster pace than it has been from the recession that began in late 2008.”

Still, the paper states that “history shows that a recovery rooted in policies contained in the Romney plan will create about 12 million jobs in the first term of a Romney presidency.” Notably, the paper does not provide much historical evidence to support this claim, and where it does look at history, it focuses on unemployment rates, not job creation numbers.

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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Jobs Jobs Report Mitt Romney