Liddick: The war over facts
October 8, 2012
I swear, I don’t know what took ’em so long. After almost four years above 8 percent, the unemployment rate is now 7.8 percent – if you squint enough and hold your hand like this… Just in time for the election, too. Who could have seen that coming?
If you believe it, I have a bridge to show you between Manhattan and Brooklyn. On the National Register of Historic Places, good traffic flow, going cheap…
July of this year saw 144,000 new jobs; still, the unemployment rate went up to 8.3 percent. At least the boiled-down, simplified, guesstimate “U3” rate did. But last month, through a miracle of what might be termed “voodoo math,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us we created 114,000 new jobs – below the rate of population increase – and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 p percent. The BLS also announced that the total number of employed Americans grew by 873,000. Excuse me? Did almost a million of us agree last month to take one-sixth of a job? Or switch to the underground economy, perhaps?
To understand why this alchemy of numbers is something that ought to make you go “h’mmmm,” consider this: in September of 2004, unemployment dropped from 5.5 percent to 5.4 percent. The increase in new jobs triggering the decrease was 144,000 – exactly the same as in last July. So 144,000 new jobs in a smaller U.S. population (295 million vs. 314 million) dropped unemployment by a miniscule 0.1%, but 8 years later, with a larger population, there are 114,000 new jobs and somehow the drop in unemployment triples: from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent?
Maybe it’s a miscalculation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics freely admits that its standard margin of error in calculating job numbers is 100,000. Maybe it’s the 340,000 people that were consigned by fiat to the ranks of those “marginally attached to the workforce,” and therefore not counted among September’s “U3” unemployment number – the one getting the coverage. Maybe it’s something else.
Whatever the reason, a lot of economists are scratching their heads over it. Perhaps it would be more useful to consider the “U6” figure, which includes those working part time who want full time employment, those who are registered as unemployed and workforce “dropouts” who still want to work. This rate has declined slightly as well – to 14.7 percent for September.
Whatever the real figure is – or will be, once it is “adjusted,” as June, July and August have been – the bemusement and argumentation illustrates what one might term “the war over fact” which has infected our nation’s politics. Examples abound: will Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board limit access to medical care? Yes. Is Mitt Romney proposing a “Five trillion dollar tax cut?” No. Will Barack Obama’s budget plan really “reduce the deficit by $4 trillion?” No. Does the “Dodd-Frank” bank oversight law really designate some banks “too big to fail?” Yes. But to a partisan of the left, the responses would be “no, yes, yes, and no,” respectively.
And those are easy queries; answers involve the ability to read and add, but little else. When it comes to complex questions or points of policy, facts don’t become foggy, they often simply take a holiday. How are humans responsible for “global warming,” exactly? Can one prove it without ambiguous and impenetrably complex computer models? No. Or yes. Who was responsible for the murder of our diplomats in Libya, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a YouTube videographer? Most Americans looked at the deed and the date and drew reasonable conclusions; the Administration is still trying to work it out. Are the Syrian rebels more of a menace to US interests in the Middle East than the Assad regime? No. Or yes. Or, if one is speaking for the Administration, “no – if that means we don’t have to do anything.”
These days we cannot agree on the direction of sunrise because to do so would require half of us to admit the other half is correct, which we will not do, even when we’re blinded by the dawn. Our situation is worsened because we disagree about what our country is, what our goals as a society should be – and even on whether we are one society anymore. Clarity is not provided by politicians who fan the flame of division, who insist that facts bend to partisanship, who refuse to recognize any reality not reflecting their pet theories. These men and women, who make careers from slippery words and the avoidance of blame are not the hope of tomorrow. Their tomorrow is not the world of our children, it’s the next election. They are not problem-solvers, they are the problem. And that’s a fact.
Don’t you agree?
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.