At some point in the not too distant past, we bid adieu to the quaint notion of taking government statistics at their face value. It may have begun with a site like ShadowStats, which purports to demonstrate that all manner of government releases are nowhere near what their true values are.
This, of course, includes inflation, which ShadowStats tells us runs considerably higher than the government lets on, which is hilarious given the fact that a subscription to ShadowStats costs the same $175 now that it did in September 2008. How does that work, exactly?
More recently, in the past year or two, it became fashionable to cite the BLS’ Not in Labor Force statistic as representative of how crappy the labor market has been under Obama. This number was recently prominently flogged by The Drudge Report, and I’ve seen it cited far and wide, including on a business television outlet (guess which one).
It’s easy to see why the right would latch on to NILF. It’s a big and menacing number, that’s for sure. And to think so many people are not in the labor force simply has to mean that the economy’s in the crapper, right?
It’s certainly far more dramatic to say, “95 million people are not in the labor force” than it is to say, “The labor force participation rate has fallen to 62.8%.” Let’s be real about this: 95 million is a huge number on its face while 62.8% is a ratio, meaning there’s a numerator…and a denominator…and oh my god who can do all this math? (And, by the way, most of the decline in the LFPR can be attributed to our demographics.)
But what, exactly, is Not in Labor Force? What does it mean? Here’s what BLS tells us (emphasis mine):
The labor force is made up of the employed and the unemployed. The remainder—those who have no job and are not looking for one—are counted as not in the labor force. Many who are not in the labor force are going to school or are retired. Family responsibilities keep others out of the labor force. Since the mid-1990s, typically fewer than 1 in 10 people not in the labor force reported that they want a job.
So, Not in Labor Force includes students, retirees, stay-at-home Moms and Dads, and many others. And the fact is that fewer than 10 percent of those categorized as Not in Labor Force even want a job!
But who can be bothered to research these things in this now fact-free world in which we live — the post-truth era — with fake news sites (this year-old story is a real dandy), Facebook, Twitter, and the like?
The sad and scary fact of the matter is that many ideologues (more on one side than the other, for sure) have figured out exactly how to stroke and feed Americans’ confirmation bias – to feed them narratives that comport with their existing beliefs or theories. Where 95 million not in the labor force = Obama sucks.
But here’s the most interesting question: Given that Obama’s been fudging the unemployment rate (~5.0%) and the jobs numbers (~200k/month), why in the world isn’t he fudging the labor force participation rate, the home ownership rate, and the not in the labor force numbers so he looks like a stud all the way around?