Obama, Romney U.S. Labor unemployment statistics debate, who nose?
Written by  // Friday, 05 October 2012 23:37 //

pinochioThe debate over the Obama-Romney debate round one is over.  Clearly, in the minds of just about everyone, Romney won.



However, the victory lap has been somewhat short-lived.  Labor figures claim the unemployment rate dropped by .3% putting unemployment under 8% to 7.8% which has caused the Obama people to blunt Romney's most powerful offense--unemployment.  However, those who support Romney or who do not support Obama and just accept Romney are claiming the Labor statistics numbers are cooked, dubious and even irrelevant.

Here are three opinions from today on this issue:

"Romney's nose keeps growing longer and longer"... 

“If you just give up and say, ‘Look I can’t go back to work, I’m just going to stay home,’ why, you’re no longer part of the employment statistics. So it looks like unemployment is getting better, but the truth is, if the same share of people were participating in the workforce today as on the day the president got elected, our unemployment rate would be around 11 percent.”

— Mitt Romney, Oct. 5, 2012

The announcement Friday that the unemployment rate had dropped below 8 percent deprived the Romney campaign of one its favorite talking points (“42 months of unemployment above 8 percent”). Never mind that this is more of a psychological barrier than anything else, since the rate has bounced around enough that it will take some time to see if this is a permanent shift.

But Romney was quick to point out a new figure — a suggestion that the real apples-to-apples unemployment rate with the start of Obama’s term would be 11 percent. We have previously explored the details of another unemployment rate — the U-6, which includes part-timers looking for full-time work — that conservatives have touted. But what is this new metric?

The Facts

On the surface, Romney’s point seems reasonable. The labor force participation rate in January 2009 was 65.7, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Had the rate remained the same, the labor force would be about 160,158,000. At the current employment level, the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent.

But this assumes all things are equal in the labor force, when in fact it is constantly churning and evolving. In particular, besides the aftermath of the Great Recession, the composition of the labor force has been affected by the retirement of the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation.

Our colleagues at WonkBlog explored this issue earlier this year, showing that the peak of the labor force participation rate, or LFPR, was reached during the end of President Bill Clinton’s term and that since then it has been on a downward track. “If the same percentage of adults were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 11.1 percent,” the column noted. “If the percentage was where it was when George W. Bush took office, the unemployment rate would be 13.1 percent.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in March estimated that just over half of the post-1999 decline in the labor force participation rate was explained by long-running demographic patterns, such as the retirement of the baby boomers. “These patterns are expected to continue, offsetting LFPR improvements due to economic recovery,” the study said.

In other words, all things did not remain equal.


The future is ours gang can't find its future, or jobs

Congratulations, President Obama, you’ve just seen the national unemployment rate drop in the United States to match the lowest point in unemployment since you took office.

On Friday morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its September jobs report, which indicated the (U-3) unemployment rate fell last month to 7.8%, down from 8.1% in August, as non-farm payrolls added 114,000 jobs. This is a good sign for the incumbent president, who is looking to bolster his re-election odds by pointing out that the economy is improving. More so, it bodes well for the American economy, which will likely take the BLS report as a sign that the U.S. financial situation is improving after the 2008 meltdown and subsequent Great Recession.

But not all Americans can say that they are starting to see the storm clouds clear. According to new data, the millennial voting bloc is still experiencing record rates of unemployment, pushing 12%. When “real unemployment” is factored in, that number jumps to 16.6%.



Labor statistics are irrelevant, smoke and mirrors and who cares, anyway

And in the end, what would it get us? Let’s face it… even in the current climate, the only people who really care about this figure are interested in it for either politics or journalism. For the average American, how many other people do or don’t have a job pales in comparison to the question of whether or not they have one. Do you really want to pay that high a price for better data points?

Let’s face it… America isn’t a police state. (Not yet, anyway.) The government has no ability to track each and every adult and see who is getting up each day to go to work, where they go and how much they earn. And I doubt many of you would want them to have that power. Maybe we just need to accept the facts and educate voters to know that these numbers involve a lot of guesswork, smoke and mirrors. We can watch the long term trends and probably get a general idea as to whether employment is getting better or worse over time, but the month to month numbers are, in the end, little more than fodder for yet another political parlor game.


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