Mitt Romney’s senior adviser Ed Gillespie distorted some economic facts on “Meet the Press” when he accused President Obama of creating a U.S. economy that is “hostile” to women.
- Gillespie said the “number of single-mother families living in poverty” is now the highest “in recorded history.” But poverty statistics date only to 1959, and the poverty rate for single mothers — which is a better indicator than the total number — is still relatively low, despite a recent rise. It was 31.6 percent in 2010, the 37th highest rate in 52 years. The highest rate was 42.9 percent in 1962.
- He also said there has been a 14 percent increase in the number of single mothers living in poverty under Obama, relying again on the number rather than the poverty rate. The rate has increased 2.9 percentage points under Obama. By comparison, the rate rose 3.3 percentage points under Bush.
- Gillespie said “there are 2.7 million more women without health insurance today than when Barack Obama took office.” True, but there are also 2.1 million more women living in the U.S. The percentage of uninsured women rose from 13.3 percent in 2008 to 14.8 percent in 2010. That’s lower than the percentage of uninsured men, which was 17.9 percent in 2010.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, recently appointed Gillespie to serve as a senior adviser. Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and once served as an adviser to then-President George W. Bush. Gillespie and Karl Rove, another Bush adviser, helped launch American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two political groups that aim to raise $240 million to help Republicans this fall.
It was Romney who first attacked the president’s economic policies as a “war on women,” citing specifically the fact that 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama were lost by women. As we wrote once before, that’s a statement of fact — but not the whole story. That’s the case, again, with Gillespie — who on “Meet the Press” on April 29 trotted out other economic facts that he says prove “the U.S. economy is a hostile workplace for women under President Obama.”
Single mothers in poverty
Gillespie, April 29: “We have actually now the highest number of single mother families living in poverty than at any time in recorded history. A 14 percent increase since President Obama took office. … And we have, like I say, single mother families at the highest level in poverty.”
First of all, “recorded history” — which sounds like a long time — goes back only to the Eisenhower presidency. The Census Bureau says it began providing official poverty estimates in 1959.
Second, Gillespie is right that the “number of single mother families living in poverty” in 2010, the most recent number available, is the highest since records have been kept, beginning in 1959. There were an estimated 4.7 million single mothers living in poverty in 2010. But that’s misleading because it does not take into account population growth. A better measure would be the poverty rate — the percentage of single mothers living in poverty.
Since 1959, the poverty rates for single mothers have ranged from a high of 42.9 percent in 1962 to a low of 25.4 percent in 2000. The rate was 31.6 percent in 2010 — which is the 37th highest rate in 52 years.
Gillespie again relies on the number of single mothers in poverty rather than the rate of poverty, when he says that there has been “a 14 percent increase since President Obama took office.” The rate has climbed from 28.7 percent in 2008 (Bush’s last year in office) to 31.6 percent in 2010, an increase of 2.9 percentage points. By comparison, during the eight years under Bush — Gillespie’s former boss — the rate rose from a record low of 25.4 percent in 2000 to 28.7 percent in 2008, a rise of 3.3 percentage points.
We don’t mean to dismiss the fact that poverty among this group is high. But the fact is that the progress that had been made in the late 1990s was reversed in the last decade during two recessions under two presidents — one of each party.
Women and health insurance
In his interview with “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, Gillespie also cited the growing number of women who are without health insurance — once again without any perspective.
Gillespie, April 29: “Actually, David, when you look at the facts there are 2.7 million more women without health insurance today than when Barack Obama took office.”
That is true, as far as it goes. It’s true that Census figures show that there were about 2.65 million more women without health insurance in 2010 compared with 2008. But there are also nearly 2.1 million more women in the U.S. compared with 2008.
When you consider population growth, the percentage of women without health insurance rose from 13.3 percent in 2008 to 14.8 percent in 2010 — which is still lower than the percentage of men who lack insurance. The percentage of uninsured males rose from 16.5 percent to 17.9 percent.
So the rates have risen by nearly identical amounts — by 1.5 percentage points for women and 1.4 percentage points for men — and women are still far more likely to have health insurance than men.
Of course, the federal health care law signed by the president in 2010 is designed to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 32 million nonelderly Americans would gain health insurance because of the law by 2019 — if it is not repealed, as proposed by Romney.
Gillespie uses the health insurance and poverty statistics — along with the unemployment statistics used previously by Romney — to support his claim that “the U.S. economy is a hostile workplace for women under President Obama.” Gillespie also said the White House itself was a hostile workplace for women under the president, citing the remarks of former Communications Director Anita Dunn — who later told the Washington Post that her comments were taken out of context.
Dunn made her remark in a taped interview with journalist Ron Suskind for his book “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President.”
Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2011: One of the most striking quotes in the book came from former White House communications director Anita Dunn, who was quoted as saying that, “this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. . . . Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn says she was quoted out of context and told the Post on Friday that she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House was not a hostile work environment.
Suskind allowed the Post to listen to his interview with Dunn, who is quoted in full as saying: “I remember once I told Valerie that, I said if it weren’t for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn — who is now a managing director of SKDKnickerbocker, a strategic communications firm in Washington, D.C. — remains a supporter of the president and frequently appears on Sunday talk shows speaking in support of his policies.
We won’t try to settle a dispute between Dunn and Suskind, and we cannot say that the full context of her remarks — including the phrase “if it weren’t for the president” — changes the meaning, as some liberal commentators have claimed. Read literally, the “if it weren’t for the president” phrase only modifies the statement that the White House would be sued, not the subsequent sentence saying that the White House “actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
But what we can say is that Gillespie — as Romney did before him — is not telling the full story when portraying the economic plight of women under the president.
– Eugene Kiely
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