Unemployment Numbers: A Shell Game

I turned to my husband this morning as we awaited the September unemployment number to be released, and I said, “Mark my words- we are only weeks out from the election; and since no president has EVER been reelected with unemployment over 8%. . . that number WILL be under 8% come heck or high water. 

I love being right. . . . most of the time.

Today I wish I wasn’t.

Some of you reading this might think I’m actually disappointed that there are apparently fewer people unemployed, which in fact would make me quite the insensitive jerk. To actually slam my coffee cup down (I’ve got to apologize to my frightened little dog later on) in disgust over an unemployment number going DOWN certainly seems to paint me in that light.

People, if the number were truly down, I’d be rejoicing for the millions of unemployed, discouraged, tired, and distraught American citizens desperate to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

As it currently stands our unemployment rate has gone down from 8.1% to 7.8%; an interesting feat considering that only 114,000  new jobs were created last month (of those, only 104,000 were private sector), when economic history shows us the numbers need to be north of 350,000 to make any kind of significant positive dent.

Here’s the dirty little secret.


Unless, of course, you’re talking about the number of people participating in the workforce.

I’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s so epically important that it be brought up again. Current practice when calculating the unemployment numbers means that you take the working-age adult population, subtract the number of people who no longer actively looking for work (i.e. the chronically unemployed) and use THAT figure to calculate the total number of unemployed persons in this nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our current workforce participation rate is 63.6 %. To give you a clearer picture, this means that we currently have 4 million FEWER people working than we did when the numbers were measured back in 2007.

According to Jay Schalin, director of state policy analysis at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina, (before today’s numbers) “The most commonly used unemployment measure, known as U-3, is the percentage of the workforce that is unemployed and actively seeking work. Using this measure, when people drop out of the labor force they statistically disappear. The U-3 unemployment rate now hovers just over 8 percent. If those who have given up and have stopped looking for work were included, the unemployment rate would exceed 11 percent. Even the broadest measure of unemployment, U-6, fails to include the long-term unemployed who have been out of the job market for a year or more.”

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who penned a piece along with other policy reporters back in May of 2012,If the same percentage of adults were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 11.1 percent. If the percentage was where it was when George W. Bush took office, the unemployment rate would be 13.1 percent.”

That was written back when our WPR (Workforce Participation Rate) was 63.8.


Sadly, most people will hear 7.8% and stop there, without giving consideration to the factors that enable such a figure to emerge. I heard someone once refer to this cooking of the books as the “unemployment shell game.” Now you see it- now you don’t.

So those of you grasping at straws to prove this presidency hasn’t been an utter failure, you’ve been informed.

Still not convinced?

Ladies and gentleman,  there are still roughly:

46.5 million Americans on Food Stamps  (as compared to 31.7 million under President Bush)

66 million Americans below the Poverty Line (as compared to 46 million under President Bush)

Equally as bad:

$3.83 is the average cost for a gallon of unleaded gas. (as compared to $1.78 under President Bush)

$185,776 is the debt per citizen. (as compared to $35,081.00 under President Bush)

And of course- no analysis of our current state of affairs can be without the 16 trillion dollar question: How far are we in debt? Oh… shoot- I just gave it away.

Anyone want to guess which president has accumulated the most debt of any president? If you guessed Barack Obama, you’d be right. For those of you who guessed George W. Bush- don’t worry, he came in a close second. The question is- what’s the fix? STOP spending money we DON’T have. All the compassion in the world, as well-intentioned as it may be, won’t print the money needed to fund the federal ventures. Only the machine of human ingenuity, unleashed and untethered, will get us out of this horrible predicament. Taxation, (though needed in smaller quantities to fund the essentials) alone will not. To quote a phrase the president seems to love more and more these days, “it’s simple math.”

It’s quite simple, actually. If you as an individual are in debt- it’s easy to think that “if I only had a better-paying job, I could get out of this mess.” While more revenue might prove to be a temporary fix, if the spending habits of that person are not altered, no raise in the world will ever lift that person out of the quick sand that is debt. The same goes for our spend-happy federal government. At some point, policy and preference aside- it’s got to stop.

I’ve digressed, as I usually do- but it’s all in a good day’s work. Remember when I said people would think me heartless for being mad over a “lower” unemployment number? Heartless is what I call people who celebrate a faux lower unemployment number generated from a population count that DOESN’T include distraught Americans who have stopped looking for work.

Who’s being insensitive now?

One thought on “Unemployment Numbers: A Shell Game

  1. Pingback: The Vice Presidential Debate 2012: Issues or Pure Malarkey? « A Future Free

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