For months, the various government departments dealing with things economic–Treasury, Commerce, Labor and of course the Council of Economic Advisers and the Federal Reserve, have been issuing soothing words that the nation’s economy is headed back up from the Great Recession that allegedly began in December 2007.
But now comes word from the Department of Labor that, whoops, we “minsunderestimated,” as former President George W. Bush would say, the number of jobs lost. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that because of a “modeling error,” it misstated the number of jobs lost between March 2008 and March 2009 by 17 percent. In hard numbers, that is to say, the BLS was reporting that a record 4.8 million jobs were lost during those 12 months of economic collapse, when in fact the job loss total was actually 5.6 million.
They missed 824,000 lost jobs! Just to give you an idea of how many people that is, we’re talking about 10 percent of the population of the city of New York, and more people than the entire population of San Francisco.
And it gets worse. The same broken model was used for the next year, so that while we’ve been getting all those soothing words about how job losses are slowing, and about how the economy is going to start coming back, in fact, the number of jobs supposedly created or added during the past nine months has actually been overstated by almost one million! That would be the entire population of the cities of Seattle and Miami combined.
Technically, what happened is that the BLS was relying on an assumption that new businesses were forming all during these two periods, and that these new businesses were hiring people. That’s what happens during normal years, of course. But of course, any dunce without out an economics PhD could have told the BLS that over the past two years, which were hardly normal in any sense of the word, not many new businesses were being formed.
As Dean Baker, an economist with a PhD who is co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, and a guy who, as a left-leaning economist outside of the mainstream consensus does exercise common sense, puts it, when all those rosy numbers about job creation or slowing job losses were coming out, “the idea that we had a significant number of businesses being created didn’t make sense.”
Ah, but that begs the question: if the government numbers are that grotesquely wrong, what does that say about the government’s policy with regard to joblessness, about it’s policy towards economic stimulus, about the government’s policy towards alleviating the suffering of the struggling citizenry? After all, policies are supposed to be designed around a solid set of facts.
It would seem that a major reappraisal of economic policy would be in order, no?
But not a word are we hearing about such a reappraisal.
In fact, I suspect that after this little moment of embarrassment, the whole thing will be forgotten, and we’ll go on with our laissez faire approach to dealing with this recession, pretending that things will all get better on their own.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, we’re still hearing, day in, day out, on the news that the unemployment rate is only 10 percent, when the economists all know that this is a fiction. Thanks to political pressures dating back to the Reagan administration, and continued through the Clinton and Bush years, that figure has carefully excluded people who have been jobless for over a year, people who say to Labor Department pollsters that they have “given up” looking for work, and people who are working at a part-time job because they can no longer find full-time employment.
By any fair standard, all these people are unemployed too, but we just erase them from the books. If we counted all these people, as the Labor Department used to do back in the 1970s and earlier, the real unemployment rate would be over 18 percent today in America.
The bogus figure of 10 percent unemployment gives the false impression that unemployment in the US is not all that bad. It also gives the impression that it’s not any worse here than in Europe, where the rate is also about 10 percent, except that Europe, the long-term unemployed are counted, as are those who are only working part-time involuntarily.
The lesson here is not to trust the government. When it comes to the nation’s true economic condition, as the old saying goes: “Who are you going to believe: the numbers or your own lying eyes?”
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at thiscantbehappening.net