December 5 2011
The Difference Between Not-Working and Unemployment
Carrie L. Lukas
Hadley wrote on Friday about the celebrated, but really, not-so-great, drop in the unemployment rate. She had some good ideas for policies that Washington could embrace to lead to real job creation.
I thought it was worth another look at those numbers, which even the mainstream media seemed to have a tough time swallowing as a true sign of economic recovery. It seems to me, a better gauge of where the economy is might be to look at the percentage of the population that's employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that did improve during the last month, with the percentage of employed rising from 58.4 percent to 58.5 percent. That's a step in the right direction, but a smaller one than a four-percentage-point drop in unemployment would seem to suggest.
The BLS shows that the number of Americans not in the labor force jumped by nearly half a million last month. These aren't unemployed workers, just people who are not-working or even seeking work. Some of this may be driven by the retirement of Baby Boomers, but that looks like a lot of discouraged workers just giving up. That's bad news for our future prospects, which need more Americans contributing to the economy.
The media seems to like to focus on one set of numbers as our nation's scorecard, but it's important to keep in mind that often these leave out much of the story.