Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 22, 2013

Fact Check: Puffed-up appeal to job fears

A TV ad opposing the Senate immigration bill uses inflated numbers in an oversimplified, one-sided appeal to fears about job security.

The ad claims that Congress is considering “adding 33 million foreign job seekers” when 20 million Americans can’t find a job. Both those numbers are inflated and misleading.

Furthermore, the ad is silent on the offsetting economic benefits of immigration. And it appeals to fear, showing anxious faces in stark black-and-white images, while the narrator says “young adults are wondering if they’ll ever be financially independent.”

The 30-second spot is from Numbers USA, a nonprofit group that advocates for stricter limits on immigration. It has run in 16 states since the Memorial Day weekend, and is still on the air in several of them, a Numbers USA spokesman told us. The organization won’t say how much it has spent so far, or how much it has budgeted.

20 million unemployed?

The ad’s narrator starts by saying, “Jobs — 20 million of our friends, family and neighbors still can’t find one.” That’s not true.

The ad cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the source, but the most recent BLS report, released June 7, says the true number of unemployed job seekers was 11.8 million in May.

So where does the puffed-up 20 million figure come from? Numbers USA is including 7.9 million persons who actually have jobs but according to BLS are “employed part time for economic reasons,” either because their hours have been cut back or because they are unable to find a full-time job. It would be fair to call these persons “underemployed,” but it’s not accurate to say they can’t find a job at all.

Taken together, the jobless and the underemployed total 19.7 million.

The Numbers USA ad — in tiny print on screen — cites the BLS “U-6” measure, one of several “alternative measures of labor utilization.” The U-6 figure also counts — in addition to unemployed and underemployed persons — all persons “marginally attached to the labor force.” Those 2.2 million persons said they wanted work but hadn’t actually looked for a job in the past four weeks.

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