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White House defends the drop in unemployment

October 16, 2012: 4:02 PM ET

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The Romney-Ryan camp is trying to discredit the falling unemployment rate, claiming it's due mainly to workers dropping out of the labor force. But Obama administration official Gene Sperling shot back Tuesday: "That just ain't so."

Sperling, who heads the White House's National Economic Council, pointed to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows the unemployment rate fell to 7.8% last month, down from 9.0% a year earlier. Most of that decline is due to workers getting jobs -- not people dropping out of the labor force, Sperling said at the National Association for Business Economics Annual Meeting in New York Tuesday.

He also pointed to three other key measures of the job market, which include so-called discouraged workers, and have also fallen in the last year.

"No matter how you measure it, the unemployment rate is declining and those who are in the category of discouraged workers is declining," he said, adding later, "We have a long way to go to the type of recovery that the American people deserve, but no one should darken the progress we've made in reducing unemployment by suggesting it's due to a decline in the labor force due to people who are discouraged."

Talking points on both sides of the political spectrum hinge on BLS data, but they tend to focus on different pieces. Sperling's point is supported by BLS data over the last year, but that doesn't mean the Republican camp has had it entirely wrong. While the labor force has grown in the last year, it also has failed to keep up with population growth. The percentage of the population that's participating in the labor force is at 63.6%, hovering around its lowest level since the 1980s.

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