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Carly Fiorina's wildly misleading "92 percent" claim about women and jobs

Carly Fiorina made an incredible-sounding claim about Barack Obama's presidency at the CNBC debate Wednesday night: that nearly all jobs lost during his first term belonged to women.

Answering a question about equal pay, Fiorina claimed, "Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama's first term belonged to women."

If that seems hard to believe, it's because it's not true. Fiorina repeated a claim Mitt Romney made during his 2012 presidential run, which PolitiFact rated "mostly false." Romney's campaign objected to the rating at the time, but PolitiFact stood by its original piece.

What's more, the Romney figure is also badly out of date, and doesn't capture what actually happened to women in Obama's first term at all.

The 92 percent figure is badly cherry-picked

The 92 percent figure first surfaced in April 2012, when a Romney spokesperson tweeted that Obama was "clueless" because he "touts policies for women," yet women accounted for 92.3 percent of the jobs lost in his administration. Romney's website also hosted the claim. And the 92 percent figure was true at the time; between January 2009 and March 2012 (the time Obama had been in office), women really did account for the vast majority of jobs lost.

PolitiFact, however, argued that this was a hugely misleading read of job numbers: "First, Obama cannot be held entirely accountable for the employment picture on the day he took office, just as he could not be given credit if times had been booming. Second, by choosing figures from January 2009, months into the recession, the statement ignored the millions of jobs lost before then, when most of the job loss fell on men."

Job losses by gender since the 2007 recession Institute for Women's Policy Research

Economists told PolitiFact that this is a typical pattern for recessions: Men often lose their jobs first and hardest, because they're in more vulnerable industries like manufacturing and construction.

If you look at the numbers from the beginning of the recession in 2007 through March 2012 (when Romney's original analysis cut off), women only lost 39.7 percent of the jobs.

It's worth noting that focusing on Obama's first term ignores the many jobs that both genders gained in Obama's second term, as the chart above shows. Romney couldn't have known that in 2012, of course, but Fiorina should have known better in 2015.

The bigger problem with the 92 percent figure: It's not even accurate anymore

This is the danger of citing statistics that are more than three years out of date.

The 92 percent figure that Fiorina reused was calculated before the end of Obama's first term. And that makes sense, given that it hadn't ended yet.

Now, in 2015, we can look at the entirety of Obama's first term in office. When you do that, you actually see a net job gain for women of about 400,000 jobs.

All of this, by the way, was actually a convoluted attack on Hillary Clinton. Fiorina started off her equal pay answer this way: "It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama, has been demonstrably bad for women."

It's disingenuous to attack Hillary Clinton based on the unique economic circumstances and policies of Obama's first term, as Fiorina did during her answer. It's even more disingenuous to say that Obama's policies were bad for women based on this one misleading statistic, which ignores forces that were set in motion before Obama became president and doesn't even paint a complete picture of his first term.

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Posted by Vox on Wednesday, October 28, 2015