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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Silliness of Questioning Unemployment

The amount of paranoia and a widespread belief in nonsensical conspiracy theories has reached a level unseen in years with this presidential race. The recent questioning of unemployment figures is just the most recent chapter, but one which in many ways shows how intellectual rationalization has overtaken common sense even among the sensible right wing.

Darrell Issa right now is publicly toying with whether the Bureau of Labor and Statistics should be fact-checked by Congress. And what better agency to depoliticize facts than Congress, right? Of course, plenty of folks by now have explained how the BLS is insulated from politics, and others have discussed the social ramifications of questioning every bit of data that they don't like.

What I have heard few discuss in the last week is the futility of this theory in the first place. In other words, there is nothing to gain—NOTHING—from faking unemployment numbers. The Obama administration would not only be acting criminally if they did such a thing, but they would gain nothing from it.

Why? Because people don't really give a shit how many people in this country are unemployed. They care if THEY are unemployed.

To be a little more fair, they care if they and the people they know and love are out of work or under threat of losing their jobs. Statistics from the BLS help economists determine the general election of the economy, but individuals base their own thoughts on the state of the nation based on the anecdotal evidence around them.

For example, I four years ago had just been laid off, along with a couple dozen other people at the newspaper where I was working. Weeks after that, my wife was very nearly laid off from the same paper. I got a new job, but within a few months, my employer did across-the-board salary cuts and laid off a couple of co-workers in my new place of business. I don't know exactly what the unemployment rate for the country or the state of Florida was at the time, but I didn't care. As far as I was concerned, the economy was in the tank, and no positive jobs report at the time could convince me otherwise.

But since then, I have had my salary restored and earned a promotion at work. My wife is happier at her job, and does not fear a sweeping round of layoffs the likes of which were happening every few months at her company not so long ago. The professional colleagues I've kept up with for years, most working in that lucrative field of print media, hold jobs now, often in different places than they worked four years ago, and do not live in fear of their positions being consolidated. Honestly, the ones I know who are looking for work are doing so because they see job openings appearing on classified sites for the first time in many years.

Additionally, I see cranes and bulldozing on commercial lots which sat empty for years. I hear of business expansions and grant openings. I think the economy is doing astoundingly better than four years ago, and it's not because of any jobs report. It is what I see with my own eyes.

Is it possible things are only better in my corner of the world? That the country as a whole is worse off? Of course that's a possibility. But if that's the case, a majority of voters will see those circumstances and vote with a different perception of the world informing them. They won't be swayed by a jobs report any more than I would.

This gets me to where I see some real dishonesty being perpetuated in a truly nefarious way. Because I don't think the people complaining about this jobs report being fixed actually see things too differently than I do. Does anyone believe Jack Welch is feeling any pain in this economy? Is he worse off than four years ago? Are his friends in economic trouble? Ha!

If there is any legitimate reason for him to question the jobs numbers, it may because he isn't being the job creator he promises he could be and that Republicans suggest we worship. Maybe he doesn't believe the report because neither he nor his corporate colleagues is creating any new jobs. But then small businesses are being opened all across the country right now, undeterred by health care reform, estate tax returns or any of the supposed job-killing measures employed by Obama.

The real reason Republicans are pissed about these job numbers isn't that they see more unemployed people in their circle of friends. It is that they have trumpeted for months now that Obama is in a bad spot for re-election because no president gets re-elected with unemployment north of 8 percent because no one has since FDR. It is an article of faith that America will vote out incumbents if the unemployment is 8.1, but may not if it is 7.9 percent.

I always thought this argument was ridiculous for a number of reasons. First, only two presidents—Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush—lost re-election with employment above 8. Obama, unlike either of them but like FDR, has seen unemployment go down, not up, during his time in office, and I think that makes more difference. The other reason I thought this reasoning was stupid is that no one knew what the unemployment level would by come November. I got my I-told-you-so moment last Friday, and the right responded with this conspiratorial nonsense.

Bottom line is this. Jack Welch doesn't live in my world, and he sees things differently than I do. He will vote based on what he sees. So will all of us.

If Republicans are scared of an improving economy, that's sad. But the reason they are scared is not that a BLS report suggested a 0.3 reduction in unemployment. It's that they can see things are getting better, and they hate that.