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“That stimulus he [President Obama] put in place — it didn’t help private sector jobs, it helped preserve government jobs. And the one place we should have shut back — or cut back — was on government jobs. We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”

— Mitt Romney, in Craig, Colo., May 29, 2012

There’s a lot going on in this quote by the presumptive Republican nominee, which a reader asked us to fact-check. Romney disparages President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus bill for allegedly not helping to create private sector jobs. He also dings government workers, suggesting that the president’s policies have led to a bloat of government workers — and that this is a bad thing for other workers.

Let’s take a deeper look at his claims.

The Facts

We have to admit that the statement is bit confusing, because it appears to mix different thoughts. The stimulus bill included payments to states to help save “government” jobs, such as those of teachers, firefighters and the like. But then Romney refers to “145,000 more government workers,” which is correct only if he is referring to federal workers, not state workers.

As we have noted before, Romney has previously used the 145,000 figure in a misleading way, but in that instance he clearly said he was referring to federal workers. In this context, since the first part of his statement suggests he is talking about state government workers, the second part would be wrong, because the number of government workers overall has dramatically declined under Obama.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly 610,000 government jobs have been lost since January 2009, with much of the loss coming since 2010, as the stimulus funds have begun to run out. Just in the past few months, about 30,000 government jobs have been lost, even as the number of private sector jobs has increased by more than 300,000. (Overall, since January 2009, the number of private sector jobs has increased by 55,000 because the numbers plunged deeply in 2009.)

If we assume that Romney was actually referring to federal government jobs, not all government jobs, then the claim of a 145,000 increase since January 2009 is accurate. (The May data released on June 1 dropped the figure slightly, from 146,000 to 143,000.)

But as we have written, much of that increase has come in areas that Romney says he wants to bolster as president, such as defense (80,000 additional jobs), veterans affairs (38,000) and homeland security (20,000). Presumably he would think such increases are a good thing — not jobs he would want to eliminate.

Whether or not the stimulus was a success is certainly debatable. Our colleagues at Wonkblog summarized the results of the nine best surveys attempting to gauge the economic impact of the stimulus bill. Their conclusion: “Six find that the stimulus had a significant, positive effect on employment and growth, and three find that the effect was either quite small or impossible to detect.” But all have potential problems, and no one knows the real answer with any certainty. (Any politicians who claim they do know are misleading you.)

We asked the Romney campaign for the basis of his claim that the stimulus did not help private sector jobs and whether he was referring to federal or all government workers when he said there had been an increase. We did not get a response.

The Pinocchio Test

This is a problematic statement. On the face of it, private sector jobs have increased under Obama and government jobs have fallen, making Romney’s assertion incorrect. But it is not clear how much credit one can give the stimulus bill for the growth in private sector jobs. (The auto bailout boosted the number of auto jobs, but that was a different program.)

If one assumes Romney was referring to federal workers, then his statistic is accurate but his comment makes little sense. He says he wants to cut back government jobs, even though Obama added jobs in areas that Romney identifies as critical — and even though such cuts in government employment would further reduce overall employment. We had given him Two Pinocchios for the previous way he had used this 145,000 figure but given the context of this statement, we have no choice but to increase the number.

Three Pinocchios

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