Those Damn Unemployment Numbers

Feb 05, 11 Those Damn Unemployment Numbers
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The unemployment rate dropped by an amazing .4% last month, from 9.4% to 9%.  This represents a drop of almost a full percentage point in the last two months.  While this should be great news, the US economy only created a net 36,000 jobs in January.  Economists and policy analysts are scrambling to figure out how such anemic growth could have resulted in such a dramatic drop.  While weather and population changes contributed to skewing the normally messy process of calculating the unemployment rate, the statistics are becoming an obfuscation of the real pain that Americans are feeling.  As Bob Herbert from the New York Times puts it:

We behave as though the numbers are an end in themselves — just get the G.D.P. up or the jobless rate down — and we’ll be on our way to fat city. But the numbers are just tools, abstractions to help guide us, orient us. They aren’t the be-all and end-all. They don’t tell us squat about the flesh-and-blood reality of the mom or dad lying awake in the dark of night, worrying about the repo man coming for the family van or the foreclosure notice that’s sure to materialize any day now.

The policy makers don’t tell us that most of the new jobs being created in such meager numbers are, in fact, poor ones, with lousy pay and few or no benefits. What we hear is what the data zealots pump out week after week, that the market is up, retail sales are strong, Wall Street salaries and bonuses are streaking, as always, to the moon, and that businesses are sitting on mountains of cash. So all must be right with the world.

There is no national plan to address the breadth and depth of this jobs crisis.  With bankruptcies and foreclosures expected to rise this year, and many states facing bankruptcy, we can expect the pain and misery to continue to spread.  By focusing all of our collective energy on the ups and downs of the stock market and the few winners in our economy, we completely neglect not only the middle class, who are slipping into poverty every day, but the poor who are faced with a rapidly unraveling social safety net.  There are mountains of data explaining how we ended up here.  There are even some fantastic plans to help spur true growth and innovation throughout the economy.  Corruption and lack of political will have helped shield and further enrich the true culprits of our economic destruction, while guaranteeing that nothing substantive will be done to confront this problem that will one day truly overwhelm us.

Lies, and damned lies.

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