Cherry-Picking the Employment Numbers

The White House trumpeted an unemployment figure of 8.3 percent as great progress. That would be encouraging if it were true. It’s not. The administration selectively chose the data that seemed to indicate a drop in unemployment while ignoring any numbers that would detract from their findings.

Interestingly, this is exactly how the first unemployment figures were tabulated in 1878 by Carroll D. Wright, chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of the Statistics of Labor. According to the New York Times, he circulated a survey that asked town assessors to estimate the number of local people out of work, but only count adult men who really want employment.

“By doing this, Wright said he understood that he was excluding a large number of men who would have liked to work if they could have found a job that paid as much as they had been earning before. Just as Wright hoped, his results were encouraging. Officially, there were only 22,000 unemployed in Massachusetts, less than one-tenth as many as one widely circulated (and patently wrong) guess had suggested.

His method for counting — and not counting — the unemployed became the basis for Census tallies of the jobless and, eventually, for the monthly employment report put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Old habits are hard to break. If manipulated by people with an agenda, statistics can support any issue. For example, if everyone simply stopped looking for a job, the unemployment number would be zero. This seems to be what the Obama Administration is banking on.

What the new unemployment figures fail to take in to account are the more than 4 million people that have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed.

The government numbers also ignore the persons employed part-time for economic reasons. These underemployed individuals are working part-time because their hours have been cut back or because they are unable to find a full-time job. Then there are those that have taken jobs well below their education and skill set just to make ends meet.

These “shadow unemployed” number over 10 million people when combined with those that have stopped looking for work. This translates into the “official” unemployment number hitting 25 million people or over 20 percent of our workforce, struggling in our dysfunctional economy.

This could be Manila or Jakarta, Buenos Aires or Sao Paolo.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “Even with the recent gains, this is by far the worst jobs recovery since the Great Depression, and the U.S. still has about 5.5 million fewer jobs than it did before the recession began in December 2007.”

Some other startling figures is that the “official” unemployment rate for blacks stands at 13.6 percent, while the unemployment rate teenagers is at 23.2 percent. This is a tragedy.

About 17 percent of America’s young people are labeled “opportunity youth” — or people ages 16-24 who aren’t attached to the labor force — according to a report prepared by researchers for the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions. These future workers will lack the experience and discipline required to join the work force once new jobs are created. We are not preparing an entire generation of workers to compete in the global marketplace.

Maybe it would be helpful if the Obama administration talked to its Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben S. Bernanke. Earlier this month he told the Senate Budget Committee in Washington: “It is very important to look not just at the unemployment rate, which reflects only people who are actively seeking work. There are also a lot of people who are either out of the labor force because they don’t think they can find work or who have taken part-time jobs.”

If he sees the truth, why aren’t more people paying attention?

The administration must stop releasing unemployment figures they know are wrong simply to try to boost their approval ratings. It just compounds the misery of millions of Americans that hear the fallacy of an improving employment picture, but can’t find a job that will put food on the table.

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