Last Friday’s jobs report sent the media into a happy frenzy and the Administrating patting itself on the back as 257,000 jobs were added to our economy in January, continuing a 12-month span of growth of at least 200,000 jobs each month. The problem –or the “lie” as one expert calls it- is that too many people who should count as unemployed are purposefully left out of the equation altogether.
The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 5.7 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job additions exceeded the 230,000 forecast of economists. That’s attributed to a 703,000-person increase in the civilian labor force.
The industries of construction, healthcare, financial activities, and manufacturing all saw big job gains – adding 39K, 38k, 26K, and 22K jobs, respectively. And apparently, job creation numbers from the past two months were also revised upward from initial reports. The economy actually added 423,000 jobs –up from 353,000- in November and 329,000 in December.
We report on these numbers as though they are digits on a page. There is more to this story than just numbers. There is still real enduring hardship for American workers -especially minorities and young people.
According to Generation Opportunity’s monthly jobs report, young people ages 18-29 face a stubborn 14.2 percent unemployment. (In full disclosure, I work for GenOpp). This rate appears so high because it actually includes those who have given up looking for work. But some 1.837 million young adults are not even counted as “unemployed” because they have given up looking for work due to the lack of jobs. Black youth unemployment is an unacceptable 20 percent and 14 percent for Hispanic young people.
What this translates into are young people whose future job prospects are cut short because they have no access to jobs that would provide critical career and skills-building opportunities. What do they turn to? At best government assistance and at worse, black market behaviors that we as a society are forced to deal with through our legal system or penal system.
Yong people who are working less than they desire or have dropped out of the job market entirely because of a lack of opportunities aren’t the only ones suffering. So are their parents.
Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, makes this point on Friday’s job numbers:
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… Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed.
If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 — maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn — you're not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%…
… 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%…
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.
Gallup defines a good job as 30+ hours per week for an organization that provides a regular paycheck. Right now, 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. We need that to be 50% and a bare minimum of 10 million new, good jobs to replenish America's middle class.
As Clifton noted, “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.” But real pain exists in our labor market that is not being addressed.
A big part of the problem is that the government is underreporting what real unemployment looks like. However, when our brothers, our cousins, former colleagues, and classmates struggle for weeks, months, years, and even longer to find work, we understand that the disconnect between the media hype and reality is not just noticeable but mocking.