Politics & Policy

Plain Dealer: Rob Portman Passes Fact-Check on Joblessness Claim

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Politifact website has analyzed one of the Portman campaign’s juicier quotes on unemployment and found it…mostly accurate. This is a welcome shift from Lee Fisher, whose comments persistently have been getting failing grades from the Plain Dealer.

Portman’s quote is: “More than half of our unemployed Ohioans have been out of work for six months or more.” Highlights of analysis below:

Portman’s solutions — lower taxes, more spending on highways but less on other government programs, redirected stimulus money — would be popular among many Republicans and unpopular among many Democrats. But we’re not assessing Portman’s platform here. His figure alone — “six months or more” —  seemed worth checking, because it is stark.

It also is accurate — by one measure. There’s a different measure, however, that would change the claim.

We started by asking the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, or ODJFS, which is in charge of unemployment compensation in the state. Ben Johnson, a department spokesman, said that a primary statistic used to measure the number of people out of work comes from a monthly survey that merely asks, “Are you unemployed?”

If the answer is yes, it asks another question: Have you actively looked for work in the prior four weeks? As of July, 614,000, or 10.3 percent of Ohio’s working-age population, answered yes to both those questions. While high, that’s down from the 656,000 figure reported for March. Yet slightly more than half the Ohioans who are unemployed received unemployment compensation. The others are getting severance pay from their former employers, or they work some weeks but not others. Still others might not have applied for compensation, don’t qualify for it because of the way they quit their jobs, were fired for just cause, or have exceeded the number of weeks in which they can collect it.

Portman’s figure comes from that first, smaller universe: the number of Ohioans getting unemployment compensation, not the broader number of people without a job.[…]

In 2009, the last full year, Ohio had 608,000 people who were out of work, and 181,000 of them had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, according to this data. That means that of all the unemployed Ohioans last year, 29.7 percent had been out of work for six months or more.

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