Why the jobless figure misses so many Americans


First Posted: 2/11/2015

Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, the nation’s most respected polling firm, made a rather remarkable appearance last week on CNBC. It came the day after Gallup’s website featured an opinion piece by Clifton, headlined, “The Big Lie: 5.6 Percent Unemployment.”

“Here’s something,” wrote Clifton, “that many Americans — including some of the smartest and most educated among us — don’t know: The official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading.”

A day later, Gallup’s CEO walked back that assertion — or so it appeared.

He told CNBC viewers the monthly unemployment figure, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, actually is “very, very accurate.” He added, “I need to make that very, very clear so that I don’t suddenly disappear. I need to make it home tonight.”

Well, the United States under Barack Obama hasn’t suddenly transmogrified into Argentina under the 1976-83 military dictatorship, when some 30,000 political dissidents were disappeared.

But we don’t doubt that Clifton has gotten some blowback for stepping on the White House narrative that the nation’s labor market currently is in its best shape since the turn of the century.

Indeed, Gallup’s CEO told CNBC viewers, the number of full-time jobs as a percentage of the nation’s working-age population “is the worst it’s been in 30 years.”

That the 5.6 percent unemployment rate does not reflect that fact is attributable, Clifton wrote on Gallup’s website, to the way the government determines who is (and who is not) jobless.

“If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed,” he explained, “and has subsequently given up looking for 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.”

Or, he wrote, “Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or health care worker or construction worker or retail manager: 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 percent.”

Those are America’s forgotten workers, people either out of work or severely underemployed, who number “as many as 30 million,” according to Clifton. They can ill afford another two years of the Obama economic policies that have produced the underwhelming economic growth and less-than-robust job creation of the past six years.

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