(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The unemployment rate election

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its latest report. Which candidate's message will it support?


Robert Reich
September 5, 2012 5:27PM (UTC)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

The biggest political news this week won’t be the Democratic convention. It will be Friday’s unemployment report.

If the trend is good — if the rate of unemployment drops, and the number of payroll jobs is as good if not better than it was in July — President Obama’s claim that we’re on the right track gains crucial credibility. But if these numbers are moving in the wrong direction, Romney’s claim the nation needs a new start may appear more credible.

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I don’t recall a time when these jobs numbers, compiled monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (a highly professional group whose findings are completely insulated from politics), were as politically significant as they’ll be this Friday, and the first Fridays in October and November.

Yet these numbers are really crude approximations. They’re adjusted for seasonal variations — based on historical data that may have less significance today, when the economy is still struggling to emerge from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The numbers are also subject to corrections and revisions later, as more data comes in.

But perhaps the biggest flaw — and irony — is that when and if jobs really do start to return, many of the people who had been too discouraged to look for work start looking again. And when more people are looking, the rate of unemployment rises — because that rate is based on the percent of Americans actively looking for work. Those who have stopped looking aren’t counted.


Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 15 books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's also co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism."

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2012 Elections Barack Obama Mitt Romney Robertreich.org Unemployment

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