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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact fact-checks the Sunday news shows

President Barack Obama's upcoming State of the Union address gave Republicans and Democrats on Sunday an opportunity to make their case about the economic successes and failings over the past five years.

On Fox News Sunday, Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said that the United States has added 8 million jobs since March 2010. On Face the Nation, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, offered a seemingly opposite assertion about the jobs picture.

"Why are jobs and economic growth so dismal?" he asked host Bob Schieffer. "We've got the lowest labor force participation in over three decades, since 1978. And if President Obama wants to give an honest, candid State of the Union address this week, he'll address the fact that his economic policies are not working."

It's difficult to measure how much Obama's policies are causing the economy to stall — or in the case of Pfeiffer, succeed — but Cruz's specific claim about labor force participation rates Mostly True.

The labor force participation rate refers to the percentage of Americans who are considered to be in the labor force as a part of the overall population. To be counted in the labor force, someone must be working or actively looking for work. In December (and also October), the labor force participation rate was 62.8 percent. In January and March of 1978, it was also 62.8 percent.

How much the blame falls on Obama is the subject of an ongoing debate.

There is understandable concern about the country's long-term unemployed and discouraged workers. The economic recovery from the 2007-09 recession has been slow, which may have propelled people to go back to school, stay at home with their kids or give up on a search altogether when they could not find jobs in their field.

Still, many economists attribute at least a portion of the drop to an unsurprising reason: the retirement of baby boomers, which does not exactly qualify as an American horror story.

"The trick is to determine how much of the drop represents the impact of a lagging economy, which is worrisome, and how much is due to nonworrisome factors, such as the aging of the adult population," said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also discussed Obama's Tuesday night speech and specifically Obama's repeated calls to raise the federal minimum wage above the current rate of $7.25 an hour.

McConnell suggested that many of the people who make the minimum wage are young and just starting their working careers.

"The minimum wage is mostly an entry-level wage for young people," he said.

That claim rates Mostly True.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that half of all workers making a minimum wage are 16 to 24, and 20 percent more are in their late 20s or early 30s. That's a large chunk of the minimum wage workforce, though about 30 percent of people making the minimum wage are 35 or older.

McConnell, however, could have selected a better word to describe these jobs other than "entry level." For most young people, these are part-time jobs in the food or retail businesses or similar industries with little hope for career advancement.

Staff writers Steve Contorno and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is the editor of

The statement

Under President Barack Obama, "We've got the lowest labor force participation in over three decades, since 1978."

Sen. Ted Cruz, on Face the Nation

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly True

Cruz has his statistics right. But we'll note at least part of the trend has been years in the making and appears strongly tied to the inevitable aging of the baby boomer population. In other words, it's not all Obama's fault. We rate Cruz's statement Mostly True.

The statement

"The minimum wage is mostly an entry-level wage for young people."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, on Fox News Sunday

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly True

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that indeed half of all workers making a minimum wage are 16 to 24, and another 20 percent are in their late 20s or early 30s. That's a large chunk of the minimum wage workforce, though about 30 percent of people making the minimum wage are 35 and older. We rate McConnell's statement Mostly True.

State of the Union

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday.

TV: Major networks, cable.

PolitiFact fact-checks the Sunday news shows 01/26/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 26, 2014 9:01pm]
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