Several years ago, after Republicans took control of Congress from Democrats, they decided it was a priority to kill the fabulous Statistical Abstract of the United States, which had been published regularly since 1878 – it had a good 130+ year run under every type of administration and congress. The StatAb was an invaluable resource, a one-stop-shop for all manner of government statistics (population, crime, manufacturing, science, technology, transportation, you name it). It was the first place I would look when doing my research and, more than likely, I either found what I was looking for there or, alternatively, it pointed me in the right direction. The savings from discontinuing the StatAb was, I believe, about $2.5MM. Or, in other words, nothing. (Robert Samuelson pleaded for the StatAb here, and Paul Krugman did so here.)
With the transition to an “alternative facts” administration, I am fearing that things are going to get much, much worse. Paul Krugman gave voice to that fear in a recent posting:
Pinocchio (his Secret Service code name) has claimed, at times, that the unemployment rate is as high as 42% because, he’s like, really smart.
But here’s the scary thing: In a recent column, Catherine Rampell points out that Sean Spicer danced around the following simple question: “What is the overall unemployment rate?” Here’s the video of that exchange:
But if that’s not bad enough, it gets worse, as Trump just signed a freeze on Federal government hiring because of, according to Spicer, a “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.”
This is not true on an absolute basis (save for some bizarre interpretation of “dramatic expansion”), and demonstrably false relative to the labor force and the country’s population. Washington Post:
While the absolute number of federal employees has increased, there are fewer federal staffers now compared with the size of the population they serve. “Since the 1960s, the U.S. population increased by 67 percent, the private sector workforce increased by 136 percent,” according to President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget document, “while the size of the Federal workforce rose about 10 percent.”
Here are a couple of quick charts.
First, via the great (and perhaps at-risk) St. Louis Fed, All Federal Government Employees:
Our recent level had been a near-record low, and more or less unchanged from almost 50 years ago. (The decennial spikes have to do with temporary Census hiring, unless you’re Niall Ferguson and think that it’s related to Obama’s stimulus package.)
Also instructive to note how dramatically “government isn’t the solution, government is the problem” St. Ronnie ballooned the Federal payroll to record highs, only to have that undone by big-government Slick Willy. Funny how things often aren’t as you’re told.
These look to be dangerous times for facts, which may well be extinct before too long. Do your homework, people.