By J.F. McKenna
No one would ever question that the folks at the Gallup organization, that redoubtable public-opinion numbers cruncher, can add, subtract and draw intelligent conclusions. So when George Gallup’s own successor challenges somebody else’s math, that somebody should take note.
Right, Uncle Sam?
“The official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading,” declared Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO at Gallup.
Clifton’s scolding, recently issued on the Gallup website, is on a par with a newspaper editor’s catching Albert Einstein in a math error. (That’s a story for a different day, though.)
“Right now,” Clifton continued, “we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is ‘down’ to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.
“None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job—if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks—the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news—currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren’t throwing parties to toast ‘falling’ unemployment.”
Other numbers guys are backing up Clifton’s attack on these so-called official stats. In fact, University of Maryland economist Peter Morici recently checked in as a fellow doubting Thomas, determining that “the real number is 10 percent.”
And as of early February 8, Clifton reportedly quipped on cable TV that he might “suddenly disappear” and “not make it home” after challenging these particular Obamamatics. One thing Gallup’s top guy isn’t joking about is what weak employment numbers really mean to America.
By defining “a good job as 30-plus hours per week for an organization that provides a regular paycheck,” Gallup is reminiscent of the tax preparer who holds in his hands the hard evidence to confirm the bad news facing the taxpayer. As Clifton insisted in his online critique, “the U.S. is delivering at a staggeringly low rate of 44%, which is the number of full-time jobs as a percent of the adult population, 18 years and older.”
“Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find—in other words, you are severely underemployed—the government doesn’t count you in the 5.6%,” Clifton wrote. “There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.”
That final comment calls to mind something Mark Twain said in a speech in 1882: “The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie well told is immortal.”
And no greater immortality may be found than that in the government’s current employment numbers.
J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at email@example.com .