There are Lies, and There are Government Statistics

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

Long ago, we had a saying in college, “there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics.” What this meant was that statistics can sadly be manipulated to show whatever the person or persons want people to believe is true when it may be far from the truth. That is what I think of the U.S. government’s recent statistics on unemployment. The U.S. government is claiming that unemployment is “falling” by being 7.0 percent instead of being 7.5 percent. The significance is really irrelevant, and does not point to a far greater problem.

First, we must understand that unemployment statistics are compiled by state and federal agencies that go on the basis of those who file for unemployment benefits. Only then can they be counted as “unemployed.” But what if they do not apply for unemployment benefits? Are they still unemployed? According to the U.S. government, the answer is “no.” This is not a true calculation when you think about it. Someone may not have been able to apply for unemployment benefits, or their unemployment benefits may have run out in which case they are still not counted as unemployed when in fact their are. The U.S. government might say that they are “out of the work force” which is a nice official way of saying they are not unemployed.

This does not mean that they are employed or out of the work force—they just simply cannot find jobs and worse cannot apply for unemployment benefits for whatever reasons. Hence, the unemployment numbers could be way higher. Then there are those who graduated from college and are looking for work now who have never been employed in the first place. These former students should in fact be counted as unemployed. One other thing I have noticed is that unemployment had shot up from under 5 percent before the Great Recession to 7 percent and then on to 9 percent and has remained stuck in and around 7 percent. If you think about it, the fact is that unemployment “officially” has never gone down beyond 7 percent. This means that those who may have not been counted as unemployed may now be counted as unemployed, or that those who are unemployed may be chronically unemployed.

But in my view the official way of counting the unemployed is in so many ways rather useless. I feel we may need a better way of counting those who are truly unemployed, and then assess how we as a nation should try to deal with this chronic and dangerous situation. Yet even the official unemployment figures do point out three disturbing trends—we have not seen serious job growth since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in 2009. We have not seen unemployed really go down, and we have seen how so many millions of Americans are falling through the cracks in regards to making a living. Millions of Americans who were being counted as officially unemployed have lost their unemployment benefits because the U.S. Congress did not extend their unemployment benefits, and we are not sure when these benefits will be restored. I believe however that the larger issue of job creation and helping to bring corporate jobs back from overseas should really be the U.S. government’s main concern in helping to create employment for tens of millions of Americans here. It does not take statistics to show this is the path America should be on if we as a nation and people will economically bounce back.

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