Fact Check: Gansler’s dramatic line on unemployment in Baltimore


“In Baltimore City, 46 percent of the adult males don’t have work.”

– Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D) at the debate between Democratic candidates for governor on May 7

When Doug Gansler first hit the campaign trail, he would say that the unemployment rate in Baltimore was 46 percent. The rival gubernatorial campaign of Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) quickly jumped on this and created a video to point out that Baltimore’s unemployment rate is only 8.4 percent:

Since then, Gansler has changed up his wording. He now says that the 46 percent refers to Baltimore men without a job. Can that possibly be true? Are things really that bad?

In backing up this surprising stat, the Gansler campaign points to a column written by Martha Holleman, a policy and research consultant who lives in Baltimore, which was published in the Baltimore Sun on Sept. 1. Holleman looked at census data and concluded: A “full 46 percent of the city’s adults between ages 16 and 64 are either unemployed or out of the labor force altogether.”

That math mostly checks out. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates that between 2008 and 2012, about half a million people living in Baltimore were over the age of 16 – employable, but not quite “adult.” That group is broken into two pools, the labor force (314,932 people, which is nearly 63 percent of the larger group) and those out of the labor force (186,926). What does it mean to be out of the labor force? Census officials define this as people who are not looking for work, which largely includes students, stay-at-home parents, retirees and seasonal workers in an off-season.

An estimated 42,959 people were unemployed, which is 13.6 percent of the labor force and 8.6 percent of the larger group. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports these annual unemployment rates in Baltimore for the five years captured in the survey: 6.6 percent in 2008, 10.7 percent in 2009, 11.8 percent in 2010, 10.8 percent in 2011 and 10.2 percent in 2012. In March, the rate was 8.3 percent.)

If you add up the estimated number of people out of the labor force (186,926) and those unemployed (42,959), you get 229,885 – which is 45.8 percent of the overall group. So, sure, you could say that 46 percent of Baltimore residents over the age of 16 don’t have a job.

But that would include some teenagers who are still in high school (the survey estimates that about 43,685 were aged 15 to 19) or those over the traditional retirement age of 65 (estimated at 72,847). And the employment-related data does not include a breakdown of men vs. women. Plus, the unemployment rate in Baltimore has been steadily dropping in the years since that survey.

The Gansler campaign also pointed me to a working paper by Marc V. Levine, the founding director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Levine looked at the employment rates of black males in major metropolitan areas during the recession.

In Baltimore, he found that 42.5 percent of working-age black males were not employed in 2010, which was 20 percentage points higher than the rate for whites.  For black males between the ages of 25 and 54, the rate was 31.5 percent in 2010.

Regardless of whatever fuzzy statistic Gansler happens to be citing on the campaign trail, poverty, unemployment and underemployment continue to be real issues for many families living in Baltimore. The survey estimates that at least two out of every five Baltimore households have an income of less than $35,000 per year. This is in a state where the median household income is $72,999.

 

 

Read more fact checks on the Maryland Democratic candidates for governor: 

Anthony Brown: “Nobody was more frustrated than me, and that’s why I took the action that I did. I reorganized the leadership at the [health care] exchange.”

Doug Gansler: “It’s curious that [Brown] says he’s fought for years because every time that a repeal-the-death-penalty bill came up while he was a delegate in Annapolis, other delegates signed up to sponsor the bill and the lieutenant governor was nowhere to be found.”

Heather Mizeur: “I’ve expanded health insurance to 50,000 more children in our state.”

Anthony Brown: “We can’t afford to give a small number of the largest corporations in Maryland [Gansler's] $1.6 billion tax giveaway.”

Doug Gansler: “The actual number that we know that was able to sign up through the [health insurance exchange] Web site was … was four people.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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