Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, December 04, 2009

Uh, maybe I'm just confused...

... but, if there was a net job loss in November (even though much less than expected), how does the unemployment rate go down?

And by two-tenths of a percent?

Now, a lot of unemployed people could have suddenly died, thus removing themselves from the rolls the hard way. As unpleasant as things have been, that's not statistically likely.

Or, a lot of people could have been shoved off of the rolls of the actively unemployed because they didn't find work in the period when they were receiving benefits and their benefits have run out. But, then, there'd be a similar increase in the U6, and I don't see mention of that.

Or, a lot of people formerly counted in the U3 could be getting a few hours of temp work during the month. That, also, should raise the U6.

So, statistically, what's left? That the BLS has been diddling their birth-death models again.

For a country that measures, in considerable detail, damned near everything related to business, for the sake of business, we can't get statistics--even weekly or monthly--from, say, W-2 withholding data, that gives us an accurate picture of actual employment and unemployment (however noisy that data might be)? Sure, the self-employed don't report on that schedule, but, they're defined in other ways, and are a known quantity, even if their economic activity while self-employed is uncertain over a longer period, so, I'm not sure self-employment is the reason for the statistical inconsistencies.

Much more likely is that unemployment is always a political hot potato, and every administration diddles with the way it's calculated to make it seem like they are doing more than they are, as folks such as Kevin Phillips and William Greider have detailed over the years. When Reagan was faced with truly ugly numbers, he simply included the military in the ranks of the employed when they never had been before. Other Presidents have done similar things. The mere fact that the BLS continues to advertise the U3 rate as the unemployment rate, when the much higher and more realistic U6 doesn't get top billing is evidence that the numbers are spun for political purposes.

Now that the deficit hawks are in full-throated screaming mode, even small changes up or down are going to be seen as more dramatic than they actually are, and we're going to see politicians and economists alike stirring the goat entrails of these numbers for signs and portents. So, it would be kinda nice to think that they were really accurate.


Post a Comment

<< Home