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By Maryalice Gill August 27, 2012

Mitt Romney is right, getting a job right out of college can be tricky business

As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.,  fielded questions from New Hampshire voters this week, Romney shared a new take on the American Dream.

A junior at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, where Romney and Ryan visited, asked Romney what he’s going to do to help American students with debt coming out of college.

"The first thing I’m going to do for you, is make sure we don’t keep on adding more, more and more debt that you don’t even know about," Romney said. "That’s number one. Number two, the next thing I’m going to do for you, is to make sure that when you graduate, you can get a job. Half the kids coming out of college this year, half, can't find a job, or a job that's consistent with a college degree. It's unacceptable. We have to make sure young people coming into the workforce can get a job.

"I think it was Dick Armey the other day, who practiced a little humor, he said, ‘It used to be in America, that the American Dream was owning your own home. Now it’s getting kids out of the home you own.’ I want to make sure that you’re able to get a home of your own. That you can have a good job. That you can start paying back the debt."

The former Texas congressman’s joke got some chuckles from the crowd. But half of college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed? That’s not a laughing matter.

PolitiFact decided to check the claim to see if Romney was right.

First, we reached out to Romney’s campaign to get the sources behind his statement.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams pointed to articles by the Associated Press and that each address the bleak job market for 2012 college graduates.

PolitiFact also checked its coffer of claims and found a similar statement made by the Republican Jewish Coalition in June. It said, "One out of every two kids who are graduating college right now can't find a job," which was deemed Mostly True.

PolitiFact used that same Associated Press article, which has the headline, "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed," to reach its ruling.

The article is based on research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which in turn is based on data from the federal Current Population Survey, as well as Labor Department measures of what level of education is required to perform each of some 900 jobs.

Here’s how the AP summarized the findings:

"A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge. Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs – waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example – and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans. ...

"About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed. … Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year."

According to our interpretation of the article, Romney got it right: about 50 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or employed in jobs that aren’t commensurate with their degree. Of this 50 percent figure, about half are unemployed and about half are in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

The Republican Jewish Coalition missed the fact that a large part of the 50 percent figure is made up by students that are underemployed.

PolitiFact also checked with Andrew Sum, the Northeastern professor who did the research for the Associated Press story. Sum agreed with our analysis.

We also think there’s an additional piece of context worth mentioning. People shouldn’t compare this 50 percent rate to the more familiar unemployment rate, which was most recently recorded at 8.5 percent for June 2012. The reality is that even in strong economic times, a sizable percentage of recent college grads is either unemployed or employed in jobs below their abilities.

According to the AP, the record low was still pretty high at 41 percent, in 2000 -- "before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and (information technology) fields." That’s far higher than the more familiar unemployment statistic for the overall population ever gets.

Still, there’s reason to be concerned about the current rate: At 53.6 percent, it’s the highest it’s been in at least 11 years.

Our ruling

Romney was right to say that half of American college graduates this year are either unemployed or underemployed, and he interpreted the corresponding research correctly. We give him a True.

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Mitt Romney is right, getting a job right out of college can be tricky business

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