When the latest unemployment numbers were released, I imagined how a panicked White House would react to the media reporting the truly significant news about workforce collapse, instead of writing upbeat headlines about the decent, but unexciting, job growth in January. You know, the way they’d report it if this was a Republican Administration. Remember when George W. Bush’s 5 percent unemployment was portrayed as a “jobless recovery” nightmare, populated with dead-eyed hordes of burger flippers?
I wasn’t the only one to notice that the unemployment numbers were receiving an exceptionally vigorous massage to be presented as marvelous good news. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) wondered on his Facebook page about some more folks who seem to have vanished in a cloud of statistics:
Can someone tell me how employment in the black community has improved at a rate three times the national average in just a few months?? With numbers like today, urban communities should be well on their way to economic recovery then! There is something suspicious about the job numbers released today and it has me very concerned. Sept/2011 Black unemployment: 15.9 %, Americans overall: 9.0 %. Jan/2012 Black unemployment: 13.6 %, Americans overall: 8.3%. Is this dramatic supposed decrease in black unemployment a result of job creation or is someone playing around with the census numbers?? Americans need truth, not these number games.
If the media was reporting on the Obama Administration the way they’d dig into a Republican Administration, they’d be asking questions like that, instead of just reprinting White House press releases. What West observed in the black unemployment rate might just be statistical noise, as the necessary data is difficult to accumulate and subject to frequent revision. It’s not necessarily the result of skullduggery at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I believe does a generally good job of measuring an incredibly complex situation. They’d have an even better reputation for accuracy if our insatiable political and media appetite for instant information didn’t compel them to release their numbers two months early.
At any rate, there are a lot of questions to be asked about our current employment situation, and someone finally got around to asking them. Pressed about the astonishing decline in the size of the workforce, White House spokesman Jay Carney offered this amazing perspective, as related by the Washington Examiner:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained that the number of people dropping out of the work force, which artificially depresses the unemployment rate, can be regarded as an “economic positive.”
“A large percentage of that is due to younger people getting more education, which in the end is an economic positive,” Carney said. “This increase in the number of people leaving the work force has been a trend and a fact since 2000, because of an aging population, which is not to say this is wholly — that’s not to say that I would wholly disregard as an issue.” Carney had been asked about the 19 million underemployed or unemployed Americans, and about people who had left the work force.
“I think some of those who, I suppose, don’t wish us well politically have tried to make a point about this,” he also said. “The facts are that in these most recent numbers, this is not an issue of people leaving the work force; the numbers are positive across the board.”
(Emphasis mine.) If you weren’t already terrified by the notion that people like this might get four more years to beat the cheese out of the U.S. economy, this ought to get your adrenaline pumping. It’s great that people are getting old and dying, or dropping out of the workforce to go to school?
Who’s supposed to pay for the entitlement benefits for that “aging population,” Mr. Carney?
And as for his pulled-from-the-trousers claim that our workforce has collapsed under Barack Obama because young people want to stay in college… isn’t this the same Administration that has been loudly complaining about the size of U.S. student loan debt? Where is the evidence that the wildly inflated tuition paid to keep kids in school for all those extra years is producing a more valuable work force? How can you square that claim with all the billions Obama thinks we urgently need to spend on job training?
Also, the current unemployment rate for ages 20 to 24 is 13.3 percent, while it’s 9 percent for ages 25 to 34. Those rates are much higher than the national average of 8.3 percent. If the bulk of the people dropping out of the workforce completely were coming from those age cohorts, their unemployment rate would be much lower.
As flaccid and dubious as today’s employment situation is, these are our salad days. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts horribly anemic 1.1 percent GDP growth for the coming year. That will cause both rising unemployment rates and a further private-sector workforce reduction. Will the economic geniuses of the Obama Administration blame that on a tidal wave of people staying in school longer, to become extra-well-qualified for jobs that no longer exist?