"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, August 5, 2011

9.1% -- What Does The Number Really Mean?

The unemployment data for July is out.   The unemployment rate was down slightly, from 9.2% to 9.1%.   So what does the number really mean?

I'll tell you what it doesn't mean.   It doesn't mean that we're suddenly moving back in the right direction on jobs.   The key sentence in the Bureau of Labor Statistics release this morning is this one:  "The civilian labor force participation rate edged down in July to 63.9 percent."   According to the actual BLS data, the civilian labor force was actually down 193,000 people and the number of employed was actually down 38,000.   There were 156,000 fewer unemployed because fewer people were counted as part of the labor force to begin with.  

In other words, we could get unemployment down to 0% if everyone just stopped working and started, oh, hunting and gathering for food.


Meanwhile, it's worth recalling the famous chart produced by the Obama administration to support the stimulus way back in the spring of 2009, where they predicted that, with the stimulus, unemployment would never get above 8% and by now would be around 6.6%.   The reality has worked in the opposite direction from the prediction of the government geniuses in Washington:

This chart still makes me laugh.   Or cry.   Hard to tell what to do these days.


Oh, by the way, the BLS release also says that the U.S. "added" 117,000 new jobs in July.   The problem is that, with population growth, we need to add roughly 200-250,000 new jobs just to break even every month.   The only reason the unemployment rate isn't going up with job growth so anemic, is because the size of the labor force is actually shrinking!   Over the past year the size of the labor force has actually (and historically, this is an anomaly) shrunk by roughly 400,000 workers, from 153.6 million to 153.2 million.   But here's the key figure:  the number of "non-institutionalized" people who are not in the labor force over the same period grew from 84.2 million to 86.4 million, an increase of 2.2 million.   People who give up aren't counted as unemployed, but they might as well be.  

In short, there's not much silver lining in today's jobs news.  

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