Romney Wades Into Tricky Waters With Unemployment Rate Promise

Photograph by Eddie Seal/Bloomberg

Job seekers wait for the opening of the Job USA fair in Robstown, Texas.

Mitt Romney promised today that by the end of his first White House term, he would have shaved the unemployment rate to 6 percent. Sounds ambitious, right? Maybe not so much.

While the figure represents a whopping 2.1 percent drop from today’s national unemployment rate, it’s about the same as the one congressional budget analysts have projected the U.S. will hit under current economic trends and existing laws, and — according to Romney himself a few weeks ago — “not cause for celebration.”

“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent or perhaps a little lower,” the presumed Republican presidential nominee told Time Magazine in an interview today. “We’d get the rate down quite substantially.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in its Jan. 31 budget projections that the unemployment rate would remain above 8 percent this year and in 2013, gradually declining to 7 percent by the end of 2015 and to about 5.5 percent by the end of 2017. That’s assuming that current laws stay in effect, including the expiration of income tax cuts that Romney has vowed to preserve in the name of job growth.

Even if Romney were to reach the milestone he has set — first established in September of last year when he laid out his 59-point economic plan — he’s already said he wouldn’t be impressed.

“Anything over 4 percent is not cause for celebration,” Romney said while campaigning in Pittsburgh May 4, after the release of April unemployment figures showing the jobless rate had declined to a three-year low of 8.1 percent.

The last time unemployment was at 4 percent was in December 2000, at the end of former President Bill Clinton’s second term. After former President George W. Bush was sworn in in 2001, it rose to 4.2 percent and fluctuated over his eight years in office, landing at 7.3 percent at the end of his presidency.

Whatever level he has in mind, Romney might want to be careful about citing a specific figure when it comes to the unemployment rate. He refers in nearly every speech to Obama’s vow to lower the jobless rate to below 8 percent, citing it as the most egregious in what he calls a litany of broken promises from the president he’s running to replace. Missing that mark, Romney argues, shows that Obama doesn’t know how to fix the economy.

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said by promising a rate above than one he dismissed as too high earlier this month, Romney had “moved the goalposts on a critical promise that he has made.”

“Government economists have been clear that under current law, their projection today is that unemployment will hit 6 percent by that point,” LaBolt told reporters in a conference call organized to rebut a speech Romney gave today on education policy. “What I think was interesting about this is that Romney moved the goalposts in just a matter of weeks.”

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