Almost every month glowing reports come out about America’s job picture. On Friday, the Labor Department told us the unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent in August, marking the third straight month it has been under 5 percent.
It also noted that 151,000 jobs were created in August.
That’s pretty good news this Labor Day weekend, right? We should all be clicking our heels?
Only 44 percent of adults are actually working — quite a difference from the government’s claim of 95 percent — according to Gallup, a highly-regarded independent research company.
The discrepancy between the two numbers comes down to how the term “working” is defined. In Gallup’s world, an employed person is someone who is on the job 30 or more hours a week. This seems reasonable to us and probably to most of you.
Your Uncle Sam, however, would never use such a simple measuring stick, no matter how rational it sounds. The government loves to “factor in” things. It bases its jobless figures on people who are “looking” for work as opposed to people who are “out” of work. From that comes three criteria that make things seem a lot better than they actually are. People are not included in the Department of Labor calculations if:
• They have not looked for a job in the last four weeks.
• They have worked at least one hour and were paid at least $20, such as someone whose only source of income was mowing your lawn
• A person who holds a part-time job, regardless if it is dramatic under-employment with regards to education or past-work history.
With the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession now in its eighth year, too many American workers are still living paycheck-to-paycheck and remain at serious risk of financial ruin if the slightest thing goes wrong.
A Forbes magazine report in January noted that “56 percent of Americans said they have less than $1,000 in their checking and savings accounts combined. Nearly a quarter (24.8 percent) have less than $100 to their name. Meanwhile, 38 percent said they would pay less than their full credit card balance this month, and 11 percent said they would make the minimum payment—meaning they would likely be mired in debt for years and pay more in interest than they originally borrowed.”
The weeks following Labor Day will see an already heated presidential campaign being taken to another level. Anywhere from 7 to 10 percent of voters are undecided on whether they’ll support Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or another candidate on Nov 8, according to various polls.
Don’t be surprised if the candidates’ positions on job growth and the economy turn out to be the deciding factor for these voters. We can only hope they base their decisions on more than rhetoric and sound bytes, and they ask how a candidate is going to accomplish what he or she proposes.
If we’ve learned one thing about the jobless numbers, it’s the old adage holds true: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”