Friday, March 5, 2010

Vanishing people

This bears repeating for anyone who's complacent about unemployment.

How can all three of these facts be true at the same time?

  1. The rate of unemployment held steady in February (at the awful rate of 9.7%).
  2. 36,000 net jobs were lost.
  3. Approximately 150,000 people would be expected to join the workforce in an average month.
The obvious expressions of these facts:
jobsFeb = jobsJan - 36000
workforceFeb = workforceJan + 150000
jobsJan/workforceJan = jobsFeb/workforceFeb = 0.097, thus
jobsJan/workforceJan = (jJ - 36000)/(wJ + 150000) = 0.097
Only problem is that this last equation has no solution. The unemployment rate should have gone up a tenth of a point.

The problem with this arithmetic is that workforceFeb = workforceJan + 150000 isn't true. People who need jobs, who want jobs, are giving up, falling off the count.

Unemployment, as officially measured, held steady. That is only true because the Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped counting a bunch of the actually unemployed. How many? Since there are about 138,000,000 people working in the U.S., about 190,000 people had to give up in the single month of February to make the ratio stay constant.

Fifteen million people are out of work. Involuntarily. Not counting people who are working parttime but would like a fulltime job. Not counting people working shit jobs just to keep body and soul together. Not counting people who have given up, more than one percent of all unemployed in last month alone.

In ordinary times, this would be considered a crisis.

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