O'HARA TOWNSHIP, PA -- Mitt Romney incorporated April's less-than-stellar jobs report into his assault on the president's economic policies, which he said reflected a "sad time in America."
"Just this morning, there was some news that came across the wire that said the unemployment rate has dropped 8.1 percent. And normally that would be cause for celebration, but in fact anything over 8 percent, anything near 7 percent, anything over 4 percent is not cause for celebration. But in fact the reason it dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 was not because we created a lot of jobs. As a matter of fact, only 115,000 net new jobs were created. That was well beneath what it was expected to be. It should have been in the hundreds of thousands but it wasn't. The reason the rate came down was because about 340,000 people dropped out of the workforce," Romney said.
Four percent unemployment, a number lower than that sometimes considered by economists as "full employment," is a high bar. The lowest unemployment rate recorded in the last decade was 4.4 percent, in May 2007.
The former Massachusetts governor also hit the president over the growing scale of the federal government, and issued a dire warning about what the future may hold under a second Obama administration.
"Government will control directly or indirectly over half the economy if this president is re-elected, and we will cease being a free economy," Romney said. "We have to ask ourselves, is that what America is? An economy governed by government, an economy run by government? In my view, we must be an economy, a people run by free people pursuing happiness in the way they believe is best for them and their families."
In a statement, the Obama campaign responded.
“From start to finish, Mitt Romney’s speech today was filled with dishonesty and distortions about both President Obama’s record and his own," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. "Mitt Romney’s empty promises on job creation do not square with his record in either the private or public sector."
Romney, who declared succinctly that in regards to the economy, "liberal policies don't work," used today's campaign event outside Pittsburgh to not only attack president Obama's policies on the economy, but to highlight what he said was his own outreach to regular folks to better understand their struggles and successes.
"One of the great things I've had a chance to do over the last, oh, couple of years, is go across the country and meet everyday Americans. And it's made me both more optimistic and enthusiastic about our future, and also more sad as I've seen how tough times are for so many Americans," Romney said.
"The numbers don't really tell you what's going on in people's lives as much as actually talking to people and hearing their stories. And so before I begin an event like this, I typically am able to sit down with a few people on an off the record kinda basis. I agree not to say who they are to the members of my media -- my media, I don't have my media, I wish I had my media -- to members of the media. And I listen to them to hear their experiences. I'm amazed by the hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people," Romney said.
With media not allowed to attend, and no further information offered by the campaign, such meetings are impossible to verify independently.
The Romney campaign did confirm a meeting between the presumptive GOP nominee and one private citizen today: former Senator Rick Santorum, who suspended his cash-strapped campaign in April. The two erstwhile rivals spoke privately for some 90 minutes in the Pittsburgh office of former Santorum strategist John Brabender, according to sources briefed on the meeting.
Romney did not mention the meeting this morning, and Santorum has yet to offer his endorsement.
NBC's Andrew Rafferty contributed reporting.