March 25, 2012

Unemployment statistics can be confusing

I'm not an economist; I can barely balance my checkbook, and I would have failed statistics if it weren't for Sharon Sharillo. So imagine the difficulty I have interpreting data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Add whatever political spin you will to the mix and any interpretation of the data is a next to impossible task.

Take the data released March 8.

There was good news.

Both initial unemployment insurance claims and the unemployment rate dropped. That was welcome news.

But there was not so good news, as well.

According to the BLS, 12.8 million Americans were still unemployed. Of that number, 42.6 percent, or 5.4 million Americans, have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, otherwise known as the long-term unemployed.

Then there was more good news.

Employment in the private sector grew by 233,000. The sectors leading the way were professional and business services, health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and mining.

Then more not so good news.

The unemployment rates for the major worker groups remained flat. The unemployment rate for adult men was 7.7 percent, for adult women 7.7 percent, for teenagers 23.8 percent, for whites 7.3 percent, for blacks 14.1 percent, for Hispanics 10.7 percent and for Asians 6.3 percent.

Finally, there was some mixed news.

Since the recession officially ended in the summer of 2009, the economy has added approximately 1.66 million net jobs. Great news.

During the same period, however, the number of working-age Americans not in the labor force (those who have stopped looking for work) rose by 7.14 million. (My father argues that many stopped looking for work out of fear they might find it.)

The only group for whom labor participation rates have not fallen are workers age 65 and over.

The average length of unemployment is still close to its all-time high, and almost 3 million people are working part-time rather than full-time. Not so great news.

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