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Dueling data drive jobs debate
Politics » Numbers give both presidential campaigns ammo for debate.

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When you add up those groups, plus the unemployed, you end up with 23.5 million. That produces an "under-employment" rate of 15 percent.

Layoffs • There’s one clear area of improvement since Obama was inaugurated: Layoffs have plunged.

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As Obama has often pointed out, more than 800,000 Americans lost their jobs in January 2009, the month he took office. That was the largest one-month drop in more than 60 years. The pain persisted for months: The economy shed 600,000 or more jobs each month from November 2008 through April 2009. A total of 4.5 million jobs were lost.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits soared. In the last week of March, 667,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits, the most in more than 26 years.

Since then, layoffs have dwindled. The economy is steadily adding jobs, however modestly. And the number of people seeking unemployment benefits each week is averaging about 370,000, slightly above the 325,000 most economists say signals a healthy economy.

Job openings • The government calculates how many open jobs are available each month. This figure has shown improvement. But it remains below pre-recession levels.

In June, the most recent data available, employers posted 3.8 million available jobs. It was the most in four years — and 57 percent more than in July 2009, a month after the recession ended. Before the recession, job openings regularly topped 4 million.

The job openings report provides perhaps the best gauge of what the job market feels like for the unemployed. In June, an average of 3.4 unemployed people were competing for each open job. That’s down sharply from its peak of 7 to 1 in July 2009. But in a healthy economy, the ratio is usually about 2 to 1.

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