Liberals Are Innumerate

This post was edited the following morning to add more information.

Given the fact that leftists accept the WHO study mentioned in the last post as unassailable, cite the recent decline in the unemployment rate as proof that Obama’s policies are “working,” and fling around aggregate NAEP and SAT scores in their attempts to argue that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is the ideological love child of Mubarak and Hitler, this is the only conclusion I can draw: liberals are innumerate. Whence came their data? They have no idea.

Take the unemployment rate, for example. Who counts as employed? Who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS, you pretty much count as employed if you have any job at all, whether it is full-time or part-time. As SABR Matt observes in a reply to one of my posts below, this means that the simple unemployment number doesn’t tell us who is under-employed. How many people have settled for part-time work despite credentials which qualify them for full-time work? How many are settling for less pay than they have received in the past because they have no other choice?

And who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS:

Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work. Actively looking for work may consist of any of the following activities:

An employer directly or having a job interview
A public or private employment agency
Friends or relatives
A school or university employment center

Sending out resumes or filling out applications
Placing or answering advertisements
Checking union or professional registers
Some other means of active job search

Passive methods of job search do not have the potential to result in a job offer and therefore do not qualify as active job search methods. Examples of passive methods include attending a job training program or course, or merely reading about job openings that are posted in newspapers or on the Internet.

So it’s not simply a lack of a job that qualifies you as unemployed – you have to actually be looking for work to count. But what about those people who have been jobless so long that they’ve essentially given up? Well, the BLS has a third category for them – “Not in the Labor Force.” If you are not actively looking for work for any reason, you fall into this group.

We need to look now at what has been happening to the labor force participation rate:

Source: BLS

As you can see, over the past several years, it has been crashing precipitously. Almost certainly, this is in part because the “Baby Boomers” are starting to retire, but is there anything else that accounts for the decline? That’s another question we need to answer.

In addition to the commonly used unemployment rate, the BLS releases five alternative employment measures, including one that attempts to account for underemployment (U6). Here’s what has happened to those numbers over the past year:

  • U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force:5.8 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.3 5.3
  • U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force: 6.1 6.2 5.8 5.6 5.4 5.4
  • U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate): 9.7 9.8 9.4 9.0 8.9 8.8
  • U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers: 10.3 10.5 10.2 9.6 9.5 9.4
  • U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 11.0 11.2 10.9 10.7 10.5 10.3
  • U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 16.8 17.0 16.7 16.1 15.9 15.7

They all seem to be going down, which is good news. But again, the various unemployment rates don’t take into account our ballooning debts and their international context — and our shrinking labor pool should be a grave cause for concern given that we depend on that pool to fund things like Social Security.

In my experience, however, liberals consider contexts and nitty gritty details nothing but a bother to consider. Back when the Wisconsin battle was dominating the news cycle, a number of Facebook leftists – including a friend of mine who, frighteningly enough, is a professor – started passing around claims that states with weaker teachers unions (including those states – like Virginia – which have outlawed collective bargaining) have lower SAT/ACT and NAEP scores. When I jumped in to remind the aforementioned professor that correlation does not equal causation and that aggregate scores tell us virtually nothing because each state has a different socioeconomic composition, he dismissed my comment as a “Fox News phrase” and continued to insist that states with powerful teachers unions do better. His sheer arrogance left me utterly gobsmacked. Someone that ill-acquainted with elementary statistics is not justified in billing himself as an intelligent member of the “reality-based community,” and quite frankly, I fear for the education of the students under his charge.

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