Mitt Romney has tried to turn Democrats’ claim of a “war on women” by the GOP against them this week, accusing President Obama of waging his own “war on women.” Slower job growth for female workers, Romney insists, is evidence of Obama’s war.
“His polices have been really a war on women,” Romney told FOX News Wednesday. “Over 92 percent of the jobs lost under this president were lost by women,” a statistic his campaign has cited frequently this week.
But no one from his campaign, including economic and policy advisers, could offer a clear explanation of this disparity Romney has trumpeted on a press call Wednesday.
Economists overwhelmingly attribute the statistic to the nature of the recession Obama inherited. And, regardless of its cause, Romney’s advisers wouldn’t say whether Romney would do anything to address it.
The campaign also did not have an immediate answer to whether Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama, which makes it easier for women to file pay-discrimination lawsuits. After the Obama campaign put out a statement from Ledbetter herself saying she was “shocked and disappointed” by the ambiguity, a spokeswoman told TPM in an e-mail that Romney “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.”
The campaign faced a number of questions in its press call as to just how Obama’s supposed “War on Women” worked, none of which produced a direct answer. Asked by TPM on the call to explain how another president taking office in January 2009 might have affected the gender gap in job growth, Romney adviser Lanhee Chen only said that the pattern was unusual compared with other recessions and that he believed a president like Romney would have gotten different results.
“Obviously we’re of the mind that the difference in policy would produce a different set of outcomes,” he said.
Chen was pressed again by another reporter to explain why women were disproportionately affected and what “difference in policy” would have changed the equation.
“The president’s policies in general, whether it’s Obamacare or Dodd-Frank or any of the policies they have pursued have really hurt both men and women,” he said. “This president has demonstrated that he’s doing everything in his power to scare away job creators and that’s had a disproportionate impact on women. That’s just a statistical fact.”
Asked a third time to explain the origins of this gender divide and how Romney would tackle the ratio of job losses specifically, Chen again said “it is a fact” that women have suffered disproportionately but offered no specific answer.
“[Romney] would undo the damage that President Obama has done,” he said. “He would take the economy in a very different direction and, as a result of that, produce very substantial job gains and growth for men and women.”
The “92 percent” line is difficult to explain and defend for a reason. Independent fact-checkers have dubbed it misleading this week in that it treats the initial recession Obama inherited as the result of his policies, and ignores that there are good reasons for the disparity: Men lost the vast majority of the initial jobs wiped out by the housing collapse and financial crisis, many of which were in areas like construction. As a result, they’ve been gaining those jobs back faster as the economy has recovered while women, who until recently enjoyed a significantly lower unemployment rate, have added jobs at a slower rate, in part due to public sector cuts to education and other government jobs that disproportionately employ women.
The result: A statistic that makes a great sound bite but crumbles immediately when put under the microscope.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.