Monday, February 20, 2012

The Real Numbers

The recent unemployment numbers have been promoted to the public as good news for America and good news for the president's reelection prospects, but this Investors' Business Daily editorial indicates that the good news is superficial and misleading. The jobless rate remains stuck above 8% where it's been ever since the month following the president's inauguration.

It's the longest stretch of high unemployment since the Great Depression, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it's expected to stay pretty much where it is through 2014:
Even worse for an administration straining to make the case that it deserves to be around for another four years is the real unemployment rate. It's not 8.3%, but closer to 15%, a figure that reflects those who "would like to work but have not searched for a job in the past four weeks as well as those who are working part time but would prefer full-time work," says the CBO.

Another White House problem comes from the CBO report: "The share of unemployed people looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40% in December 2009 for the first time since 1948, when such data began to be collected; it has remained above that level ever since."

The CBO data aren't isolated. Gallup reports that its unemployment rate based on weekly surveys stands at 9%, while underemployment is at a hefty 19%.

Also threatening Obama's re-election offensive is the nation's shrinking labor force. Many laid-off workers, frustrated by grim prospects, have stopped looking for jobs and are no longer in the labor pool.

That makes the jobless rate look better, as that number is a percentage of the labor force, not the overall national population. But those jobless Americans are real people who will cast real votes in November.

The trouble is fixing these facts in voters' minds. They need to know the full truth, not the half-truth the media and the White House feed them.
The pool of unemployed people who are seeking work is getting smaller as many of them simply give up. That makes it appear as if the number of unemployed is shrinking because the unemployment rate is a measure of those still looking for work.

I don't suppose we're likely to hear very often over the next eight months that real unemployment is much worse than the government reports it to be, but we should. To ignore these numbers when presenting the unemployment situation to the public is at best disingenuous and at worst dishonest.