When Donald Trump on Monday questioned the accuracy of the federal government’s glowing employment reports, it may have seemed like another unsubstantiated outburst from a famously loose-with-the-facts candidate. But in this case, he was joining a bipartisan chorus of businesspeople, economists and lawmakers who say the monthly employment report is an artificial portrait deliberately airbrushed by statisticians to make the jobs picture look better than it really is.
Last week, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 255,000 jobs in July, and that the official unemployment rate had remained at 4.9 percent — the lowest it has been since early 2008. In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Trump derided the report, calling it “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”
Though Trump didn’t say so, the larger criticism of the unemployment rate revolves around how it counts — and doesn’t count — the jobless. Today, the official unemployment rate counts only those actively seeking a job. It doesn’t count those who have dropped out of the official labor force either because they have not been able to find a job, or because they are working part-time and cannot find full-time employment.
“In today’s labor market, the unemployment rate drastically understates the weakness of job opportunities,” wrote the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute on its website, which calls for a more comprehensive unemployment rate. “This is due to the existence of a large pool of ‘missing workers’ — potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job. In other words, these are people who would be either working or looking for work if job opportunities were significantly stronger. Because jobless workers are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, these ‘missing workers’ are not reflected in the unemployment rate.”
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