The Fallacy of “Real” Unemployment
|February 9, 2012||Posted by Adam T under Debunking, Political News, Political News - U.S.|
Ever since the new unemployment numbers for January 2012 have come out, the conservatives have been scrambling to find something wrong with it – from conspiracy theories about how he numbers are cooked, to arguments about what the “real” unemployment numbers should be. The conspiracy theories are nonsense, so we are not going to deal with those. Instead, we are going to talk about what “real” unemployment means to the conservatives, and what the Bureau of Labor and Statistics means when it calculates the unemployment numbers.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has released an unemployment number for every month for years now. The number indicates the total number of unemployed as a percentage of the civilian labor force. The civilian labor force excludes those who are discouraged from looking but are able to work, and also excludes people who are employed part time when they wish for full time, and other small figures. Again, this is how the unemployment rate has always been calculated.
The conservatives do not like that the trend is going down, because it weakens their argument that the President is ruining the economy. So some of them have tried to use a different measurement, something they call the “real” unemployment figures. In order to make their case, they include people able to work but no longer looking, and sometimes include people who are working part time when they wish for full time. The implication is that the public is being misled, and that the government is purposely hiding other numbers. But this is not true.
The BLS has always calculated these alternative measures as well. A recently published news release shows these numbers, with and without being “seasonally adjusted.” The above image shows those numbers and an explanation of each measurement.
Before I go on, one question must be answered: what does seasonally adjusted mean? Put simply, it accounts for jobs gained or lost simply because of things like holiday hiring and weather issues (like a hurricane or tornado). But if you want a more detailed explanation, LAWorks explains it in a more confusing, but more detailed way.
Above I have included a chart that takes the numbers from the last 5 months of seasonally adjusted labor data. U-3 (the green line) is how unemployment is usually measured. U-5 (the light blue line) is how conservatives would like it to be measured. Notice anything similar about those lines? You guessed it, they are both declining.
In fact, all of the numbers are declining over time. The argument that the conservatives are trying to make is one of an increase by taking one of the measurements that is currently higher than the standard unemployment measurement, and trying to get people to make a graph in their own heads that show an upward trend. As you can see from the chart above, this is not the case.
So, not only is unemployment (the way it is usually presented) declining, but so is every other unemployment metric. This bodes well for the country, as well as for the Obama Administration (as far as public opinion goes). As researchers have pointed out, the number that is presented isn’t the issue, it’s if the unemployment number is declining and how quickly it is declining that helps curry favor for the incumbent administration.
But conservatives continue to try to push the idea that only the “fake” unemployment number is falling, while the number would stay the same if only we included people not looking for work, or some other metric. But, as you can see from the BLS data, that is not true. Unemployment is falling in every category, and the Obama administration is reaping the benefits of years of conservative propaganda that say the President “owns” the economy. The conservative’s very own message has turned on them, again, and they are NOT happy about it.