Every American would be helped by reading Darrell Huff’s 1954 classic, How to Lie with Statistics. While mainstream media spins numbers, how many people look deeper and understand the number games? The latest employment numbers is an easy example.
Do j-school students even have to take ONE math class anymore? The “reporting” on today’s new jobs numbers is just plain embarrassing.
- U.S. Adds 146,000 Jobs; Jobless Rate Falls to 7.7% – NY Times
- JOBLESS RATE HITS 4-YEAR LOW – MSNBC
- Economy adds 146K jobs in Nov., jobless rate drops – CBS
Yes, it is true that 146,000 jobs were created in November, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers… but—there are other numbers that were released today, too. You tell me if the headlines above tell the “Natural Truth:”
The percentage of working-age Americans in the workforce DROPPED in November to 63.6%. The number of adults [counted] in the labor force dropped by 540,000 in November. If the same number of workers were out looking for jobs today as when President Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent, not 7.7 percent….
Since June, there have been just 847,000 new jobs created overall (at this point in the Reagan recovery, we were creating 800,000 each month). But 621,000 of those jobs—73 percent—were government jobs. [According to BLS figures, also reported here, which appear to differ from the BLS news release.]
While the media put a positive spin on the official November estimated job growth figure of 146,000 jobs, without putting that number into context, it might sound like a lot to a credulous public.
- These prediction figures are always later corrected, usually downward, as more complete numbers come in. Remember how the September reports of falling jobless claims hadn’t included California, the most populous and economically depressed state? So, this past Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also issued revised numbers for the payroll gains that had been reported for October and September — down from 171,000 to 138,000 in October and 148,000 to 132,000 for September. November figures will be corrected in January, but probably won’t make headlines, either.
- Remember, a certain number of jobs are needed every month simply to keep up with the population growth and the number of people in the workforce. (So this figure can also be manipulated lower by not counting everyone in the labor force.) To put those 132,000 to 138,000 new jobs into perspective, the Economist Populist estimated that the number of jobs realistically needed each month, just to maintain, at about 127,000 to 186,000. Official job growth numbers aren’t even keeping up with the population.
- Most of the civilian job growth came from low-paying jobs in retail (53,000 jobs), and temporary jobs rose by 18,000.
Since December of 2007, the Economist Populist documented that the number of jobs officially lost in the United States is now “down” to 4.13 million jobs. Job growth has remained relatively flat for the last two years, and is not nearly fast enough to employ the tens of millions who are unemployed and need a good job.
How many people are unemployed? The news reported that the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.7%, but definitions are everything. This figure is the BLS “U-3 Total,” the percentage of the officially recognized labor force that is unemployed. These numbers don’t count people who have been looking for work in the past year (those “marginally attached to the labor force”) or have become discouraged. Those are reflected in the “U-5 Totals” report — which was 9.2% for November.
Nor does that 7.7% include those people in the U-5 totals, plus the underemployed who took part-time jobs for economic reasons. According to the BLS, 8.2 million Americans remain “involuntary part-time workers,” working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. The official figures for those who are unemployed or involuntarily underemployed in part-time work, are in the “U-6 Totals” report — which was 14.4% for November.
Even the U-6 report, though, leaves out people wanting a job and not considered part of the labor force, according to the Economist Populist. The CPS survey of people not counted in official unemployment statistics and official unemployment rate who want a job, for example, increased 230,000 from last month and currently stands at more than 6.8 million people. More disturbingly, the average length of time people have been unemployed is 40 weeks.
Long-term employment figures most reflect the current job crisis. This past June, CBS News reported that according to Congressional Research Service data, long-term unemployment rates were the highest since the Great Depression. A stunning 45.1 percent of all unemployed workers in this country had been jobless for more than six months, compared to about 31% at the end of the Great Depression in 1937.
As of October, official numbers said 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year. “Long term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression,” Paul Krugman wrote last week in the New York Times.
The Pew Charitable Trust analysis of long-term unemployment, based on Basic Monthly CPS public data from the BLS and the U.S. Census Bureau, reported that the percentage of jobless workers unemployed for a year or more during the first quarter of 2012 was 29.5% — more than triple the 9.5% rate during the first quarter of the 2008 recession. Long-term unemployment for older workers continues to worsen, and once a worker becomes unemployed, long-term joblessness is fairly evenly distributed across all education levels, every industry and occupation.
The figures least apt to be manipulated and to most accurately reflect the full employment picture is the total number of adults participating in the labor force as a percentage of the working age population. According to the BLS reports, there are 244 million Americans of working age (and not in prisons, mental hospitals or nursing homes). Of that total, 143 million have jobs. That means, about 59% of Americans have some type of job and another 41% don’t. The Phoenix Business Journal dug deeper, bringing in a historical perspective:
A record 89.2 million Americans are not in the labor force or job market, according to November employment data released by the federal government. That figure combined with the 12 million workers counted in the official U.S. unemployment tally translates into 41 percent of the U.S. civilian population over the age of 16 being without a job. That 89.2 million figure is the highest on record…
As Darrell Huff’s book cautions, statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from “gee-whiz graphs” that add nonexistent drama to trends, to results that do not mean what people think they do, to statistics implying false cause-and-effect reasoning. “Even if you can’t find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere,” he wrote. “There always is.”
Numbers can also never tell the human side of the story. “Behind every data point on this line is a real live person, with ability, skills, promise, knowledge and capability who desperately needs someone to hire them,” wrote Robert Oak in the Economist Populist. If you’re among those of us wasting away looking for a job — normal, hard working people, with years of experience, skills, education and currently unemployed for years — understand that you are not alone and no amount of positive spin can change facts.