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Mark Caserta: Jobs report distorted by selective data

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 02:44 PM

It's time for our government to be intellectually honest with Americans about our jobs problem.

Many people don't understand the political ambiguity of the jobs numbers reported each month. And sadly, political affiliation often causes those who do understand to simply ignore the truth.

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases the total number of unemployed people in the U.S. for the previous month. For years, this announcement has been widely used as measurement for the success of an administration's economic policies, thus the media frenzy.

One might think the government counts the number of unemployed using the claims filed for unemployment as a measuring tool.

However, since some people are still jobless when their benefits run out, this isn't used as a source for information.

Our nation's unemployment rate is actually derived from a monthly government sample survey called the "Current Population Survey." This survey sample includes about 60,000 households, or approximately 110,000 people supposedly representative of the entire population.

Now the government cites its survey sample as large compared with public opinion surveys (which we all know to be extremely accurate), but with 316 million people in the U.S. one can begin to see the obscurity of the process.

But surely with "2,200 highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees" interviewing sample households for labor information, it must be non-partisan and precise!

How precise? Well, the BLS maintains "the chances are 90 out of 100 that the monthly estimate of unemployment from the sample is within about 290,000 of the figure obtainable from a total census."

That's laughable.

So May's reported jobs increase of 175,000 could be off a little?

Folks, it's time to wash the lipstick off this pig and take a hard look at reality.

Even using this survey process, persons are classified as unemployed only if they are available and have actively looked for work in the prior four weeks.

May's reported unemployment rate of this "narrowly defined" group was 7.6 percent.

When looking at the total unemployed or the BLS "U-6" figure, which includes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for work, plus the total employed part time for economic reasons, the total unemployed number rises to 14.3 percent -- nearly double May's touted percentage!

Now, let's look at those jobs reportedly created.

Per Labor Department data, employment rose in professional and business services, food and drinking places, and retail trade.

Employment in major industries, including mining and logging, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, showed little or no change.

In fact, there were 1,199 mass layoff actions in April, involving 116,849 workers.

Another little considered fact is that many of these new jobs are the result of low-income earners having to take on a second or third job to survive economically.

The bottom line is the U-6 alternative measure of labor in 2008, according to the BLS was 10.5 percent.

Today, four-and-a-half years into the Obama presidency, it has risen to 14.3 percent.

And most of the jobs being created are lower income.

It's time to remove the politics from the jobs reports.

Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.

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