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Sorting out the truth in politics

Three times more people looking than jobs open

White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, right, speaks with Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., in the White House on Jan. 7, two days after Sperling said on CNN, “Our economy still has three people looking for every job (opening).” PolitiFact notes caveats but rates the claim True. See for more.

Associated Press

White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, right, speaks with Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., in the White House on Jan. 7, two days after Sperling said on CNN, “Our economy still has three people looking for every job (opening).” PolitiFact notes caveats but rates the claim True. See for more.

The statement

"Our economy still has three people looking for every job (opening)."

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, Jan. 5 on CNN's State of the Union

The ruling

To check the 3-to-1 ratio claim from Sperling, who's also a top economic adviser to President Barack Obama, we needed to know two things: the number of available jobs and the number of unemployed Americans. A White House spokesman referred us to a couple of Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

There were 3.925 million job openings in October, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover report from Dec. 10.

For an apples-to-apples comparison, we'll use October unemployment numbers the BLS released in its Nov. 8 report, even though it has since published November data. It said 11.3 million people were unemployed. That just counts people who are actively looking for work, not those who have stopped looking due to discouragement or retirement.

That's a ratio of 2.88-to-1 or, once you round off, roughly 3-to-1, just as Sperling said.

We should note a few caveats, though.

Tara Sinclair, George Washington University economics professor, pointed out that Sperling's ratio isn't perfect.

"The numbers that Sperling reported are about correct, but there is actually a lot more competition for jobs than that because many employed people are also applying for the same jobs that the unemployed are applying for," she said.

On the other hand, it's worth noting that Sperling's claim implies that for each job opening, there are three qualified applicants employers can choose from, but that's a generous assumption.

"So it is possible for there to be a relatively high number of applicants for a job but employers may still feel like it is hard to hire because the people applying don't have the skills they are looking for," Sinclair said. "Or people may not apply to the jobs that are out there because they are not a good fit for any number of reasons."

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said Sperling's statistic is good for comparing change over time. For example, Sherk said, the economy is worse now than it was in 2006, though the ratio has been improving steadily as of late.

Also worth noting is that many employers fill vacancies without publicizing them. According to one report, employers with no recorded vacancies at the end of a month account for 42 percent of hires in the next month.

That means the number of job openings the BLS survey records will always understate the actual number of openings.

Still, these are minor quibbles. We rate his statement True.

Three times more people looking than jobs open 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 5:21pm]
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