Arithmetically Correct Lie

by John W Rodat on April 19, 2012

Last week, Mitt Romney repeatedly said that women have lost 92.3% (note the precision of the “.3″) of the jobs since Obama became President.

The arithmetic is correct. But there’s no need to be polite and call it “misleading.” It’s a lie, a deliberate attempt to mislead. How ironic for a guy who made so much money by analytically identifying business opportunities (which themselves were a problem, but that discussion is for another time). If Romney did this kind of analysis at Bain, he would not have lasted a week for he would have mislead not only himself, but the people he originally worked for.

Here are three commentaries on the misleading nature of Romney’s “analysis.”

Start with Kevin Drum’s, Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney’s Charts:

…this is interesting as an object lesson in how to mislead with statistics. As a political attack, it’s too lame to last more than a day or two.

Then Drum analyzes the analysis:

If you look at jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, here’s what you get (employment numbers in thousands):

  • Men: 3,321
  • Women 1,840
  • Total: 5,161
  • Percent women: 36%

But that’s too boring! As you can see, there was a steep job loss among men right at the beginning of the recession and a slower job loss among women. So what happens if you just lop off that bit of the recession and count only the strength of the recovery since January 1, 2009? Well, men have recovered steeply and women have recovered more slowly. So now we have:

  • Men: 57
  • Women: 683
  • Total: 740
  • Percent women: 92%

Pretty snazzy, eh?

And Drum finishes with this:

ALSO WORTH NOTING: It’s important for Romney to start on January 1, even though Obama wasn’t inaugurated until January 20. Why? Because if you started on February 1, you’d end up with women accounting for something like 300% of all job losses, and that’s ridiculous enough that it would give the whole game away. Even the rubes wouldn’t buy that.

Other than my sense that far too many of the “rubes” would buy that, Drum has shown us how craven Romney is and how analytically and statistically illiterate most of the the media is for simply replaying this lie (yes, that’s what it is).

Jared Bernstein, Mitt’s Misleading Stat:

That strikes me as a weird and unreliable statistic, possibly correct but certainly cherry-picked.

And sure enough, as the table shows, by moving dates around, I can get pretty much whatever result you seek.

Catherine Rampell at the New York Times, Job Growth Isn’t Just a Women’s Issue, in which she says,

The net number of jobs held by women has fallen by 683,000 since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, while those held by men have fallen by 57,000. But the statistic is misleading for several reasons.

First, women have lost a lot of jobs in the last three years, but men lost far more jobs during the recession.

And then:

Secondly, the reason that job losses were concentrated among women in the last three years and among men in the previous year largely has to do with the kinds of industries the two sexes typically go into.

Earlier we talked about the recession’s lagged effects on state and local government finances. And what is one of the most common local government jobs? Teacher. And teachers are still being laid off. And many of Romney’s state and local government allies (think Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio here) are taking full advantage to lay off more teachers … and thus more women.

And more:

Which leads to a third point: The recession that set in motion these job losses on both sides of the gender ledger began under George W. Bush’s presidency, not Mr. Obama’s.

And lastly Rampell says:

Finally, because so many men have been out of work for so long, many are willing to take any job they can get, which of course improves their job growth numbers.

Had Mitt Romney used this kind of analysis while he was at Bain, they would have been broke and so would he.

Beyond the misleading use of statistics, there’s another kind of information here. It’s softer information than statistics, but it’s important nonetheless. While campaigns are different from governing, they’re not that different. Romney is telling us that in governing, he will be willing to mislead the public. He’s also signaling those who would work for a Romney administration that misleading use of statistics is an acceptable practice. This is not only about misleading the public; it’s about misleading the President. When staff in a Romney administration use deceptive analytical practices to persuade him to chose a particular policy or action, he would have no one to blame but himself because he himself embraced that behavior.

No this is not an acceptable practice. It’s a lie. It’s not only dishonorable. It’s dangerous.

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