The drubbing

So it’s another “Jobs Friday” and another “good” employment report.[1] I’ve been slacking off lately, often not updating my employment calculations for weeks after the numbers come out, if at all. But I did update them today.

Democrats are undoubtedly wistful. The economy seems to have been a major factor in the drubbing they suffered on Tuesday.[2] If only, they might imagine, these statistics had come out before the election. Of course, that would require people who have felt unrepresented by the government’s statistical reporting so far to suddenly believe today’s report.

Floyd Norris at the New York Times points to a series of reasons for doubt about economic statistics. He dismisses the possibility of a conspiracy, phrasing it better than any I’ve seen before, writing,

The idea that politicians could force government bureaucrats to fake the statistics, and do so without any leaks, is hard to believe. Such a conspiracy, if it managed to exist for long, would be a marvel of organization. But those who believe in the conspiracy theory also tend to subscribe to the theory that governments are generally incompetent and unable to do anything right. Those two beliefs do not correspond.[3]

Norris attributes skepticism to some 2009 statistics that understated the economic problems the U.S. faced as it plunged into the recession[4] that supposedly ended in June of that year.[5] But there are other reasons for skepticism, reasons I note in my page on employment calculations (I’ve copied in the footnotes):

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has numerous ways of measuring unemployment, ranging in inclusiveness from the U-1 (probably the least inclusive) to the U-6 (possibly the most inclusive).[6] By contrast, Gallup’s daily survey (which they emphasize is not seasonally adjusted), relying on a far simpler definition,[7] suggests an underemployment rate that is consistently higher than even the non-seasonally adjusted U-6. Gallup’s definition is broadly consistent with a notion that “an honest man would count anyone who would like to work as unemployed,”[8] yet it is apparent that the BLS refuses to do this and thus undermines its own credibility.[9]

I’m being polite there. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indulges in a shell game. The headline unemployment figure, the U-3, ignores discouraged workers, so the arithmetic understates unemployment. By contrast, if we still had a labor market participation rate like that we had during the dot-com boom, counted people who want full-time work but are only working part-time for economic reasons, and counted discouraged workers, the unemployment rate would still be over fifteen percent.[10] And mine is not the worst number. John Williams still calculates an unemployment rate well over 20 percent.[11]

But I don’t think most people care about the statistics. Take me, for example. I was employed, albeit part-time, in early 2009. I haven’t been employed since. Even people who have found jobs are working under far worse, more often brutal conditions than before.[12] The term “wage slave” is more apt than ever before, but we’re supposed to be grateful for a presidency and a party that rushed to aid banks, let the rich get richer, let the poor get poorer, and left underwater homeowners and the unemployed—especially the long-term unemployed—to twist in the wind.[13]

What surprises me is not that the Democrats took a drubbing on Tuesday. But that it was so long in coming.

  1. [1]Patricia Cohen, “Jobs Data Show Steady Gains, but Stagnant Wages Temper Optimism,” New York Times, November 7, 2014,
  2. [2]Dave Boyer, “Obama loses his base as broken promises breed disillusioned Democrats,” Washington Times, November 3, 2014,; John Cassidy, “A Disastrous Night for the Democrats,” New Yorker, November 5, 2014,; Joel Kotkin, “The Demographics That Sank The Democrats In The Midterm Elections,” Forbes, November 5, 2014,; Ben Mathis-Lilley, “Why the Economy Motivated Angry Voters … in a Recovering Economy,” Slate, November 6, 2014,; Greg Sargent, “What really went wrong for Democrats,” Washington Post, November 5, 2014,
  3. [3]Floyd Norris, “Doubting the Economic Data? Consider the Source,” New York Times, November 6, 2014,
  4. [4]Floyd Norris, “Doubting the Economic Data? Consider the Source,” New York Times, November 6, 2014,
  5. [5]National Bureau of Economic Research, “Business Cycle Dating Committee,” September 20, 2010,
  6. [6]Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Unemployment Rate and Beyond: Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization,” Issues in Labor Statistics, June 2008,
  7. [7]Gallup, “Gallup Daily: U.S. Employment,”
  8. [8]Carlton Meyer, quoted in David Benfell, “Counting games: why I started tracking unemployment statistics my own way and why I’m quitting,”, June 5, 2010,
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Employment Calculations,” October 26, 2014,
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Employment Calculations,” October 26, 2014,
  11. [11]John Williams, “Alternate Unemployment Charts,” Shadow Government Statistics, November 7, 2014,
  12. [12]Donna Ballman, “Walmart Should Have Listened To Me About Firing Striking Workers,” Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, November 22, 2013,; Daniel D’Addario, “Amazon is worse than Walmart,” Salon, July 30, 2013,; Democracy Now!, “Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation,” October 10, 2012,; Peter Dreier, “Labor Board Sides With Workers: Walmart Can’t Silence Employees Any Longer,” Nation, November 19, 2013,; Timothy Egan, “Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality,” New York Times, June 19, 2014,; Josh Eidelson, “Wal-Mart faces warehouse horror allegations and federal Labor Board complaint,” Salon, November 18, 2013,; Josh Eidelson, “Freezing for Wal-Mart: Sub-zero warehouse temperatures spur Indiana work stoppage,” Salon, January 13, 2014,; Josh Eidelson, “Amazon Keeps Unions Out By Keeping Workers in Fear, Says Organizer,” Alternet, January 22, 2014,; Stephen Gandel, “Why Wal-Mart can afford to give its workers a 50% raise,” Fortune, November 12, 2013,; Steven Greenhouse, “The Changing Face of Temporary Employment,” New York Times, August 31, 2014,; Erin Hatton, “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy,” New York Times, January 26, 2013,; Simon Head, “Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers,” Salon, February 23, 2014,; Allison Kilkenny, “Cleveland Walmart Holds Food Drive For Its Own Employees,” Nation, November 18, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Fear Economy,” New York Times, December 26, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Plight of the Employed,” New York Times, December 24, 2013,; Edward McClelland, “You call this a middle class? ‘I’m trying not to lose my house’,” Salon, March 1, 2014,; Mac McClelland, “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” Mother Jones, February 27, 2012,; Nathaniel Mott, “From Amazon warehouse workers to Google bus drivers, it’s tough working a non-tech job at a tech company,” Pando Daily, October 9, 2014,; Bill Moyers, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way,” October 9, 2014,; Hamilton Nolan, “What Is Life Like For an Amazon Worker?” Gawker, July 29, 2013,; Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree, “Why We Allow Concentrated Corporate Power to Inflict Violence and Injustice,” Chap. 9 in The Hidden Structure of Violence (forthcoming); Ari Rabin-Havt, “Wal-Mart flunks its fact-check: The truth behind its sarcastic response to the Times,” Salon, June 25, 2014,; Robert Reich, “The ‘Paid-What-You’re-Worth’ Myth,” March 13, 2014,; Alex Seitz-Wald, “Amazon is everything wrong with our new economy,” Salon, July 30, 2013,; Alana Semuels, “As employers push efficiency, the daily grind wears down workers,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013,,5976597,1009581,full.story; Alana Semuels, “How the relationship between employers and workers changed,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013,,0,716422.story; Alana Semuels, “Tougher workplace makes home life worse too,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013,,0,4926425.story; Spencer Soper, “Inside Amazon’s Warehouse,” Morning Call, September 18, 2011,; Joan Walsh, “Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp,” Salon, December 15, 2013,; Lindsay Wise, “Report: Temp jobs at all-time high in U.S.,” McClatchy, December 2, 2014,
  13. [13]Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (New York: Free Press, 2012).; Adriel Bettelheim and Jay Hunter, “50 Richest Members of Congress: The Wealth Keeps Growing,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, September 13, 2013,; David B. Grusky, “4 Myths About Poverty,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2014,; Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, “What Krugman & Stiglitz Can Tell Us,” review of End This Depression Now!, by Paul Krugman, and The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, New York Review of Books, September 27, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “The Forgotten Millions,” New York Times, December 6, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “The Big Shrug,” New York Times, June 9, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Defining Prosperity Down,” New York Times, July 7, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Free to Be Hungry,” New York Times, September 22, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Jobless Trap,” New York Times, April 21, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Springtime for Bankers,” New York Times, May 18, 2014,; Paul Krugman, “Does He Pass the Test?” review of Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, by Timothy F. Geithner, New York Review of Books, July 10, 2014,; Paul Krugman, “Rage of the Privileged,” New York Times, September 26, 2013,; Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, “Getting Away With It,” review of The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery, by Noam Scheiber, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, by Thomas Frank, and The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, by Thomas Byrne Edsall, New York Review of Books, July 12, 2012,; Annie Lowrey, “Long-Term Jobless: Still a Bleak Picture,” New York Times, June 7, 2013,; Annie Lowrey, “Caught in Unemployment’s Revolving Door,” New York Times, November 16, 2013,; Matthew O’Brien, “The Terrifying Reality of Long-Term Unemployment,” Atlantic, April 13, 2013,; Matthew O’Brien, “How to Save the Long-Term Unemployed,” Atlantic, April 25, 2013,; Robert Reich, “Tim Geithner and the Wall Street Bailout Redux,” May 13, 2014,; Barry Ritholtz, “Economic Inequality Is Not An Accident, It Was Created,” Big Picture, July 9, 2013,; Eugene Robinson, “Where is the Democrats’ outrage about unemployment?” Washington Post, January 13, 2014,; Jim Tankersley, “As rich gain optimism, lawmakers lose economic urgency,” Washington Post, May 20, 2013,; Mark Thoma, “Why Have Policymakers Abandoned the Working Class?” Fiscal Times, September 30, 2014,; Timothy R. Williams, “Readers React to Unemployment’s Revolving Door,” New York Times, November 21, 2013,; Matthew Yglesias, “The Long-Term Unemployed Are Doomed,” Slate, April 15, 2013,; Matthew Yglesias, “Statistical Discrimination Against the Long-Term Unemployed,” Slate, April 23, 2013,

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