Claim: “Lowest Workforce in 31 Years” (On Screen–“Lowest Workforce Since Carter” Over Image of Pres. Carter morphing into Pres. Obama)
Ad(s): Four Years
Sponsor(s): American Future Fund
Air Dates: October 4-October 11
Total Estimated Spending On This Claim: $647,409
Markets: Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis, Rochester,
Stations: KBJR, KDLH, KQDS,WDIO,KEYC, KARE, KMSP, KSTC, KSTP, WCCO, WFTC, KAAL, KIMT, KTTC, KXLT
Politifact Summary: “First, 31 years ago was October 1981 — 10 months after Ronald Reagan took office. Given the reverence Republicans have for Reagan, it’s easy to see why this ad focused on Carter instead. But “31 years” and the Carter reference can’t both be right. One of them has to be incorrect.
Second, the ad uses the term ‘lowest workforce.’ The term ‘workforce’ refers to an absolute number of people who are either employed or are seeking work. Using this statistic, the group’s claim is way off, because of the nation’s overall population growth during the last three decades as well as the expansion of women in the workforce through the 1990s. We wonder if they were referring to a different statistic — one that takes into account the size of the nation’s population. That statistic is called the civilian labor force participation rate — essentially, the labor force divided by the nation’s total population.
The figure for August 2012 — the most recent month at the point the ad began airing — was 63.5 percent. (On Oct. 5, the new figures for September showed it ticked slightly upward to 63.6, but we’ll use the numbers that were current when the ad started to run.) The last time the rate was as low as 63.5 percent for more than one consecutive month was in 1979, when Carter was president.
However, it’s worth noting a few caveats.
First, the rate did dip to 63.5 once during Reagan’s presidency, in September 1981.
Second, if you smooth out monthly volatility, labor force participation rates were close to indistinguishable during the final year of Carter and the first year of Reagan, most of which was a recessionary period. The average labor force participation rate in 1981 under Reagan was only one-tenth of 1 percentage point higher than it was in 1980 under Carter.
So the focus on Carter has a grain of truth, but even there the ad overplays its hand a bit. That’s because economic factors are not the only things that affect the labor force participation rate. The other big one is demographics, particularly the aging of the population……Because it garbles the facts on a number of fronts, we rate the claim Mostly False.”