The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that the American economy added 120,000 jobs in March, and though that number is lower than in previous months, the unemployment rate ticked down a tenth of a point to 8.2 percent, largely due to a decline in labor force participation rate (which accounts for how many Americans are actively seeking employment).
After struggling to criticize President Obama for more positive jobs reports over the last three months, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s campaign seized on today’s numbers. Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to Romney’s campaign, cited the drop in the labor participation rate as the only reason for the drop in unemployment, criticizing Obama on MSNBC for creating an economy in which people have been forced to stop looking for work.
But when host Chuck Todd pushed back , citing Moody’s analyst Mark Zandi’s explanation that the retirement of Baby Boomers and the drop in immigration has contributed heavily to the declining participation rate, Fehrnstrom could only dodge the question, choosing instead to talk about gas prices and other issues:
TODD: Actually, we just had one of those experts, and he didn’t say that. He said that the unemployment rate ticking down had a little more to do with demographics, the aging population and retirements of the Baby Boomers, and that he expected this report to be revised upward when all the data was in.
FEHRNSTROM: If you look at the labor participation rate, you’ll see that it’s going down. It’s been steadily going down. If we just maintained the participation rate that we had when Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 11%, not 8.2. So this is very troubling.
TODD: I understand. But he said demographics, the aging population, there are fewer people in the workforce because there are more people 65 and older now who are retiring and you have fewer immigrants coming into the country.
FEHRNSTROM: Mitt Romney has been around this country meeting with thousands of voters, including people who have grown so discouraged with the state of the economy and the failure of this president to lift us out of these economic problems that they’ve just stopped working altogether. This is a very troubling development. And it’s not just high unemployment, Chuck, you add to that rising gas prices, you look at the increase in consumer goods, the continued decline in home values. It all adds up to a very bad economy.
This isn’t the first time Fehrnstrom has dodged questions about the Romney campaign’s statements on the economic recovery. After Romney slammed Obama for making the economy “worse” at a debate in New Hampshire (a claim he has made and walked back multiple times), Fehrnstrom wasn’t able to answer reporters who asked for evidence that the economy is in worse shape than it was when Obama took office.