"So many became discouraged, they stopped looking for work," Mr. Romney said, referring to new statistics showing the workforce dropped by 340,000 in April.
"This is a sad time in America when people who want work can't find jobs."
The comments by the presumed GOP presidential nominee came the same day a new Labor Department report showed the unemployment rate dipped slightly to 8.1 percent last month, but the country only added 115,000 jobs.. He made them at a campaign event inside the Sauereisen construction materials company in O'Hara.
The event was held after a much-publicized – but private – meeting with former GOP primary foe Rick Santorum in Mt. Washington. Mr. Romney said in an interview this morning that he did not expect Mr. Santorum to endorse him at the meeting but rather that "you're going to see us all come together."
The White House lauded number of the jobs added, while warning that jobs numbers are volatile and not the best way to look at the country's long-term prospects in recovering from the recession.
"Today's employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but much more remains to be done to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis and the deep recession," said a statement from Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. " It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began at the end of 2007.
The Republican running for the 12th District congressional seat that includes O'Hara – attorney Keith Rothfus – worked the overflow crowd inside the Sauereisen plant, where complaints about jobs and the economy dominated. The jobs report was a perfect platform for Romney, Rothfus and other Republicans to talk about economic issues after a week dominated by talk of Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan and President Obama's handling of foreign policy issues.
"Big government politics aren't working. We need to go back and retool," Mr. Rothfus said. He faces Democratic incumbent Mark Critz of Johnstown in November.
Mr. Romney repeated his regular remarks about repealing Obama's health care reform package, stripping regulatory holds on coal, natural gas and other energy sources, and cutting government. But repeatedly he returned to the economy.
"People across the country are having hard times and wondering why it is . . I'll tell you why it is. President Obama is out of ideas, he's out of excuses, and in 2012 it's time to make sure we put him out of office," Mr. Romney said.
Democrats and their allies in organized labor knew such comments were coming and welcomed Mr. Romney back to Pittsburgh by arguing his platform – and history as a venture capitalist – show he is out of touch with middle class voters.
Some 20 Democratic and union officials counter-protested the O'Hara event, criticizing among other things Mr. Romney's opposition to the auto industry bailout. "If they had listen to Romney on the economy, we would have lost Detroit," said Nancy Mills, the chair of the Allegheny County Democratic committee.
The Democratic National Committee, too, had some fun with the morning meeting between Romney and Santorum, noting some of Santorum's criticisms of his former foe.
"Rick Santorum thinks based on Mitt Romney's failed jobs and economic record in Massachusetts that America would be in trouble with him at the helm," said a memo from the DNC's Brad Woodhouse, "that his time as a corporate raider is definitely NOT what Americans are looking for in a president, that it's unfair that Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than many middle class Americans and that Mitt Romney should release his tax returns. Senator, we couldn't agree more. All this ought to make for an interesting meeting."