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Fact checking a Romney appeal toward women

at 01:00 PM ET, 09/21/2012

“Dear daughter. Welcome to America. Your share of Obama’s debt is over $50,000. And it grows every day.

“Obama’s policies are making it harder on women. The poverty rate for women -- the highest in 17 years. More women are unemployed under President Obama. More than 5.5 million women can’t find work.”

-- Narration from a new Romney campaign ad

Polls show that Mitt Romney has always lagged far behind President Obama when it comes to support from women and Hispanics. This week, the GOP presidential nominee focused much of his attention on appealing to those demographics.

The Romney campaign’s “Dear Daughter” campaign ad features a fictional mother telling her newborn girl about female unemployment and poverty numbers, as well as the infant’s share of “Obama’s debt.” The message: women are worse off since the president took office, and the future won’t look any brighter if he wins a second term.

Let’s check the Romney claims for factual accuracy and context.

The Facts

The national debt, including money owed to Social Security and Medicare recipients, stands at about $16 trillion. Meanwhile, the U.S. population was 314 million in September, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock. That means the debt rate for each resident is roughly $51,000, which seems to cover the Romney ad’s claim at first glance.

But Obama doesn’t deserve all the blame for that rising number. After all, the national debt carries over from one administration to the next, growing larger whenever the president and Congress fail to balance the budget. Over the years, deficits have piled on top of deficits as the government borrowed money to meet its obligations.

Here’s a useful graph that illustrates what the revenue and spending numbers looked like for the past 12 years -- the blue line represents spending, the red is for revenue, and the shaded areas shows recession periods.

The government ran a surplus during the later years of President Bill Clinton’s time in office, but a new era of deficit spending started shortly after President George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001.

Multiple revenue-positive conditions led to the surpluses of the latter Clinton years, including higher taxes, efforts to control spending growth and a 1990s Dot-com bubble that led to a gusher of capital gains revenue. Likewise, a number of factors led to the Bush-year deficits: tax cuts, greater spending, two expensive wars and two recessions that further diminished tax revenue.

The deficits increased when Obama took office, as the government tried to stimulus-spend its way out of an economic tailspin and lawmakers and the president bickered over whether to close the gap with budget cuts, more taxes or a combination of the two -- an argument they still haven’t resolved.

The current administration inherited about $10.6 trillion in debt, which means the current administration oversaw an increase of $5.4 trillion at best. With that in mind, a newborn daughter’s share of “Obama’s debt” would be about $17,200, although she would still be on the hook for an additional $34,000 from previous presidents and Congresses.

We should point out that Obama in 2008 used virtually the same attack that Romney relies on to hammer Bush for increasing the national debt. As we mentioned in a previous column, the former senator said this during a stump speech in Fargo, N.D.:

“Number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.”

As for poverty, the Romney ad correctly points out that the rate is higher for women that it’s been in 17 years. The latest Census data show that 16.3 percent of females of all ages were living below the poverty level in 2011. That’s the highest level since 1993.

But the numbers here deserve some context.

First, the female poverty rate has been rising since the sixth year of the Bush administration.

Second, the rise in poverty for women under Obama has been slightly slower than it was during the start of Bush’s first term, when a less severe recession occurred. The rate increased .8 percentage points during the first three years of the Bush administration and .7 percentage points during the same period of Obama’s tenure in the White House.

Finally, the rising poverty rate is not unique to women. The levels have increased fairly proportionally across demographics. The male rate, for instance, stood at 13.6 percent in 2011, representing an increase of .6 percentage points during Obama’s term. That’s a slight difference compared to the .7 percentage-point jump for women during the same period.

It’s worth noting that poverty rates have historically been higher for women than men, so that’s nothing new to the Obama administration.

Now for the claim about unemployment. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that nearly 5.7 million working-age women were unemployed in August, which more than justifies the Romney campaign’s number and shows that women are worse off than they were before Obama became president.

But this number by itself paints an incomplete picture of what has happened during the Obama years. More than 200,000 women per month were joining the ranks of the unemployed before the president took office, so it’s no surprise that the levels are now higher than when his administration began.

Furthermore, the female unemployment level is lower than it was during the November 2010 high of 6.2 million. We should note, however, that the number has fluctuated up and down since then, failing to show steady improvement for more than four months at a time.

Overall, the situation is improving, albeit slowly and with fits and starts.

The Pinocchio Test

The “Dear Daughter” ad blames Obama for all $16 trillion in national debt. But $10.6 trillion of that accrued during past administrations, so it’s not right to suggest that a newborn’s share of “Obama’s debt” is $50,000. That number represents the child’s share of the debt from all presidents and Congresses both past and present.

The ad accurately mentions that the female poverty rate has reached an historic high, but it ignores the fact that the numbers were rising before Obama took office, and they increased faster at times during the Bush years.

Finally, the ad uses a correct female unemployment figure, but it doesn’t mention that women were losing jobs in droves when the president was sworn in, nor that the situation has improved since November 2010 -- although the trends have been erratic.

Overall, the Romney campaign earns two Pinocchio for its “Dear Daughter” ad.




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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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