This isn't a Super Bowl economy, at least not yet. But Democrats are posting a chart depicting private sector job losses and gains over 4 years. Hard to blame them.
Clicking on the chart below takes you to the site, where the chart itself becomes interactive, detailing each month. Even here, you can see the pattern.
Red is the last Republican administration.
Blue is the current Democratic administration.
The unemployment rate is at a much lower than expected rate of 8.3% for January. Conservatives are skeptical. The rate does not include those who have stopped looking for work because they are discouraged. The total percentage of unemployed people that includes discouraged workers may be above 15%. Economists chart different "U" lines to account for these varying measurements. But no matter how they are counted it's hard to find a measurement that does not improve. If you discount for population growth or unexpectedly low temperatures over the winter or any number of unusual conflations of luck, the news still comes up looking pretty good. The improvement is more than anticipated for January.
Hope is warranted. The celebration is premature. Thing is, it's just one month. And the factors that we discount now won't be discounted if they turn on us and drive the economy down. People will blame the President. That's just the way things work. More important, suffering will continue.
Mitt Romney is making a very difficult case. Things are improving but, yes, you can argue with success. Things would have been much better than they are if conservative policies had been followed. It is difficult because it involves a comparison between what is - and is eventually measurable, and what might have been and is completely speculative. It is also difficult because what evidence there is indicates he is wrong.
Still, it is difficult to fault him. A conservative Republican pretty much has to accept as a matter of faith that Hoover-economics really does work. On the comparison between what is and what might have been, well, President Obama had pretty much the same problem for quite a while, and may have again. The comparison then was between the horrible state of an economy in which really people are suffering, families losing homes, children going hungry, with a hypothetical-never-happened economy that would have had half the country selling apples on street corners to survive.
Economists slice and dice such things in bewildering displays of mathematical formulae. We always end up relying on some expert. But we can find ways to verify some aspects and then form opinions on overall credibility. If we discover that mathematician has been counting snowflakes as volcanic ash, we are justified in doubting his entirely separate analysis of Amazon rainfall. If we can't evaluate the numbers, we can sometimes evaluate the number cruncher.
One number that is demonstrably bogus, but that has been floating about anyway, landing in reports and punditry, is 1.2 million. The number of discouraged workers, those who have stopped looking for work, is counted 1.2 million. I heard it again yesterday on a replay of NBC's Meet the Press. It went unchallenged in that discussion. The source is the Bureau of labor Statistics.
The number is right. It sure enough is 1.2 million. But there are two things wrong with it.
It does not represent those who dropped out of the work force. It represents the total increase in population. That includes children too young to work and those who reached the age of retirement and, you know, retired. Both groups increased dramatically in recent years. The comparison is between population growth and unemployment.
- The number does not represent an increase for January. And it is calculated and added by the Bureau every January for the entire previous year. Hear that? The whole year is added all at once in one month.
January just happens to be the month the entire year is applied to. That is because population growth is hard to calculate more frequently. It is derived by census data, and the numbers are put together by actual count, not by formula. Democrats have tried to bring that up to date, using technology and well known mathematical models, but their efforts have been frustrated year after year by Republicans.
Life is hard for those out of work, and for those affected less directly. We owe them some regard for reality, some good faith effort at discovering what actually works.
So we should look with skepticism at the figure 1.2 million for discouraged workers.
- And we should look with complete disbelief upon charts that show a mysterious and sudden uptick of those discouraged workers for the month of January.
These folks are ... not to put too fine point on it ... mistaken.
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