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How Useful is the “Unemployment Rate”? Five Humans Who Don’t “Count”

Laura Williams
September 13th, 2019
Activist Post
Comments (20)

This article was originally published by Laura Williams at Activist Post. 

The official “unemployment rate” in the US is nearing historic lows, according to a recent announcement. For young readers, especially, this may come as a surprise. You may see your friends and family struggling to find enough well-paying work to make ends meet, and you may have personally experienced the frustration of wanting a job but not finding one.

Your experience may not be as out of the ordinary as the official numbers indicate.

The “unemployment rate” is the result of assumptions and calculations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and is cited in a range of claims by economists and politicians. But most pundits don’t know how it’s calculated, let alone what changes in that key statistic might indicate.

The unemployment rate is just 3.7 percent. Does that mean that 96 percent of Americans are going to work this morning? Not even close.

All percentages are expressions of the ratio of one thing relative to something else. The “unemployment rate” only counts “labor force participants”—about 63 percent of the population in 2019.

Non-citizens working here and others working “off the books” won’t show up; neither do active-duty members of the military (though other kinds of federal employees do). People classified as disabled or who are institutionalized or incarcerated aren’t “labor force participants,” nor are retirees or full-time students. People who’ve been unemployed so long they’re no longer actively looking (some states require job search hours to be reported) are considered “discouraged workers” and dropped from labor force calculations.

In short, BLS data are fallible measures that diagnose only part of our nation’s job market health.

To illustrate the kind of human diversity behind the sterile statistics, consider the following employment situations. These individuals may not “count” in the column our intuition would predict.

Anita’s days are filled with work, but not the kind that counts as a “job” for BLS. She’s a personal chef and a chauffeur, a home health care aide to her disabled father-in-law, and daycare provider for her two toddlers. She’s a one-woman cleaning and maintenance crew for their family home. If she paid someone else to do these tasks or did them in someone else’s home, her middle-class earning value would be tabulated. But Anita’s productivity isn’t seen in the national employment tally.

John was laid off from a union manufacturing job four years ago. Since then, he’s applied for hundreds of jobs, interviewed and been rejected dozens of times. He struggles with chronic pain and, briefly, with an addiction to prescribed pain meds. His GED doesn’t qualify him for the kind of job where he could sit at a desk, and his pain doesn’t allow him to take available jobs in nearby warehouses and service stations. John wants to work, but isn’t considered “unemployed” because he’s been out of the workforce too long.

Charlotte graduated last May with a bachelors’ degree in Spanish but hasn’t been able to find a job as a translator, as she’d hoped. She’s saving up to move to a city where specialized work is more available, but it will take her another few months. She’s saving money by living at home and waiting tables several nights a week, but her income wouldn’t be sufficient to pay her bills living independently. Charlotte is qualified for higher-paying, more interesting, more socially valuable work than she is currently doing, and would love to work more hours. She’s counted as “employed” even though it feels more like temporary unemployment to her.

Matías is a full-time graduate student who runs a thriving business out of the university library, tutoring younger students and helping them with papers and essays. He also has a 20-hour-per week federal work-study position in the biology department, and shovels snow or cuts grass on each school break. Matías will graduate with no debt and earns an above-average $30,000 annually, but his informal employment arrangements and student status make him invisible to BLS statisticians.

Angel is a “gig worker” or a “side hustler,” as her primary work, and sets her own hours by contracting through Uber, Grubhub, Roadie, and Instacart. She recently worked as an administrative assistant and could easily get a similar position, but prefers the flexible scheduling and satisfaction of being her own boss. No company claims Angel on its payroll, and she files taxes as an independent contractor, one of several “alternative arrangement” sticking points in BLS data.

The BLS “official rate” is further complicated when broken out for different groups. The current unemployment rate for college graduates is 2.4 percent, but that won’t tell us who is working in the field they studied, or how many masters’ degree candidates are tending bar. The unemployment rate for teens 16-19 is 12.1 percent but a large majority of those enrolled in high school or college don’t figure into that total.

When we hear the national figures bandied about by champions and critics, we may assume it tells us more than the statistic reasonably can. People choose, or fall into, a wide variety of arrangements that don’t track with statistical expectations of work or seeking work. The nature of work, and what people want out of it, is changing.

Seek the kind of work you love, and the situation that suits you best. Nationwide statistical measures don’t encompass the diversity of available opportunities. BLS data can’t capture the ingenious and unexpected ways people find to provide value to each other, invest their time and talents, and create wealth. Data are not destiny. Fickle, bureaucratic statistics don’t determine your life’s potential—you do.

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Author: Laura Williams
Date: September 13th, 2019
Website: https://www.activistpost.com

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  1. rellik says:

    Every thinking person knows the BLS un-employment numbers are BS. The methodology they used to derive these numbers were dreamed up by Union Democrat bureaucrats. They were intended to prop up corrupt Democrat party government policies.
    Why do I care about the percentage of un-employed people?
    They either get jobs or they don’t. It is all for politics, to benefit the Democrat party. Much like the consumer price index, it bears no resemblance to reality. It is a political tool for Democrats.
    Artificially created inflation is done so you can cheat people you owe money to eg. pay fixed pensions with future inflated dollars. Guess who came up this idea?
    Democrats and bankers.( most Bankers are Democrats).
    Get out of the cities as soon as you can. Get everything out of the system and then go “Galt”.
    Most people have an IQ less than 100 and you can’t beat stupidity at the ballot box, they outnumber us with IQ’s over 100.

  2. rellik says:

    off subject
    WA examiner just reported that China has exempted
    pigs and Soybeans from Tariffs.
    So much for the soybean farmers getting screwed by Tariffs.
    They feed pigs soybeans. Soybeans were a little over $8 a bushel on the Texas market this AM.
    We are going to get screwed as our pork prices will rise since
    the Chinese killed a large portion of their herds due to a disease and they are going to want to buy lots of pigs.
    Pork is a large part of the Chinese diet. So much for my usual Christmas Ham. Probably Turkey this year.

    • The Deplorable Renegade says:

      Rellik, I’ve been a meateater all my life and will be til’ I kick the bucket. I’m not giving up meat regardless of price. I have ham off and on all year round.

    • Anonymous says:

      The muzlum world aint losing no sleep over it..

    • Anonymous says:

      Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the rubber duck. you gotta copy on me, pig pen, c’mon? ah, yeah, 10-4, pig pen, fer shure, fer shure. by golly, it’s clean clear to flag town, c’mon. yeah, that
      Big 10-4 there, pig pen, yeah, we definitely got the front door, good buddy. mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy…

      Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of june
      In a kenworth pullin’ logs
      Cab-over pete with a reefer on
      And a jimmy haulin’ hogs
      We is headin’ for bear on i-one-oh
      ’bout a mile outta shaky town
      I says, pig pen, this here’s the rubber duck.
      And I’m about to put the hammer down.

      ’cause we got a little convoy
      Rockin’ through the night.
      Yeah, we got a little convoy,
      Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
      Come on and join our convoy
      Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
      We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
      ‘cross the u-s-a.

      Ah, breaker, pig pen, this here’s the duck. and, you wanna back off them hogs? yeah, 10-4, ’bout five mile or so. ten, roger. them hogs is gettin’ in-tense up here.

      By the time we got into tulsa town,
      We had eighty-five trucks in all.
      But they’s a roadblock up on the cloverleaf,
      And them bears was wall-to-wall.
      Yeah, them smokies is thick as bugs on a bumper;
      They even had a bear in the air!
      I says, callin’ all trucks, this here’s the duck.
      We about to go a-huntin’ bear.

      ’cause we got a great big convoy
      Rockin’ through the night.
      Yeah, we got a great big convoy,
      Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
      Come on and join our convoy
      Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
      We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
      ‘cross the u-s-a.

      Ah, you wanna give me a 10-9 on that, pig pen? negatory, pig pen; you’re still too close. yeah, them hogs is startin’ to close up my sinuses. mercy sakes, you better back off another ten.

      Well, we rolled up interstate 44
      Like a rocket sled on rails.
      We tore up all of our swindle sheets,
      And left ’em settin’ on the scales.
      By the time we hit that chi-town,
      Them bears was a-gettin’ smart:
      They’d brought up some reinforcements
      From the illinoise national guard.
      There’s armored cars, and tanks, and jeeps,
      And rigs of ev’ry size.
      Yeah, them chicken coops was full’a bears
      And choppers filled the skies.
      Well, we shot the line and we went for broke
      With a thousand screamin’ trucks
      An’ eleven long-haired friends a’ jesus
      In a chartreuse micra-bus.

      Ah, rubber duck to sodbuster, come over. yeah, 10-4, sodbuster? lissen, you wanna put that micra-bus right behind that suicide jockey? yeah, he’s haulin’ dynamite, and he needs all the help he can yet

      Well, we laid a strip for the jersey shore
      And prepared to cross the line
      I could see the bridge was lined with bears
      But I didn’t have a dog-goned dime.
      I says, pig pen, this here’s the rubber duck.
      We just ain’t a-gonna pay no toll.
      So we crashed the gate doing ninety-eight
      I says let them truckers roll, 10-4.

      ’cause we got a mighty convoy
      Rockin’ through the night.
      Yeah, we got a mighty convoy,
      Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
      Come on and join our convoy
      Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
      We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
      ‘cross the u-s-a.

      Convoy! ah, 10-4, pig pen, what’s your twenty?
      Convoy! omaha? well, they oughta know what to do with them hogs out there fer shure. well, mercy
      Convoy! sakes, good buddy, we gonna back on outta here, so keep the bugs…

  3. The Deplorable Renegade says:

    Rellik. agreed about unemployment and especially about dems. The real figure for unemployment is probably around 25-30%. I’ve been at the BOL for 6 weeks now and loving every minute of it. I don’t miss my old dem-controlled city one bit. BTW, they have local elections on Oct. 3. Everyone gets to choose either the current dem POS or another dem POS. Doesn’t matter which dem POS wins; the damn city is still doomed anyway. Dems are such a virus.

  4. Anonymous says:

    All of the above mentioned people should become bank robbers and then they would be counted.

  5. Bert says:

    So what if 33% of the US working age adult population has never worked a full time job. LOL They have never been fatter. No one is shaming them into getting a yobb.

    I went shopping today, I seen hundreds of women, only two were in shape.

    Seems no one needs to work and earn money, yet everyone can get as fat as they want.

  6. Clown World says:

    I find that, when discussing the social contact, the other party is accident prone and highly distracted — like deprogramming a cultist in a battle of wills.

    Of the five names given, one is possibly white and male.

    The “available” (sic) jobs in warehouses and service stations will not support a single person, responsibly — much less a family.

    They seem to be available to violent, unionist, communists, or quotas which have been a ward of the state.

    The employer’s business model is to launder subsidies, the rest being window dressing.

    Now, you’re going to tell us about all the things which “John” was doing wrong.

    Did you spill your water?

  7. Kevin2 says:

    They “cook the books” on everything. Inflation? Two decades back they removed food and fuel in the consumer price index imputs into the “official” inflation calculation which just so happens to adjust Social Security payments because US society gave up using both food and fuel. George Carlin nailed it when he said he doesn’t believe anything the government says, nothing, zero. He has repeatedly been proven correct.

  8. Clown World says:

    Next door, used to be orchards with horse stalls and a cement drinking trough. Helpers slept, in a separate stall, adjoining. It was still legal to have a well, prior to local ground water being sold to Red China in giant pouches.

    Then, the Vietnam vet from the spurious Modelo commercial. He was amicable and rode a motorcycle with one leg.

    Then, a well-spoken, well-put-together, white womyn, raising koi, in the trough, on the front porch. Independently. (Were it not for Bernays.)

    Then a native, who hugged people, who he almost ran over, driving drunk. About half the time, they’re really lovey. Car looked like the one from Mad Max. He sells me the trough for more beer money.


    People who only eat half the pig…

    Now, Tourette’s in Ebonics. Thump on a hollow log, and it will be a rap album. A fat ape hangs one leg out the window, barely. “F-, B-” Each shoe, outside is in different colors. There is gang affiliation, on the SUV. With competing tagging, behind the house.

    Boomers, RINO’s, and Churchians are going to tell me that each person is morally redeemable in the eyes of God and the IRS and whichever Ponzi scheme, in which you are the upline.

    “Capital” is saying this. Haven’t even gotten to “labor’s” platform, on this. Pink and red politics are not diametrical opposites, tbh.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Another “deception” in the labor force numbers can be explained as follows:
    Person A who works 40 hours/week and earns $40,000/year gets fired, but is replaced by two part time workers at 20 hours each and minimum wage (about $8/hour). In this situation, the unemployment rate rose by 1 person and then went down by 2 persons, for a net increase in employment of 1, even though the two part time workers, combined, make less than $40,000.
    It’s a charade! The actual unemployment rate, according to Shadowstats. com is around 20%.