The Sunday talk shows are, not surprisingly, spending a lot of time on the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent. The Obama talking heads are calling it “the lowest unemployment rate of the Obama presidency.”
Just for the record, that is not strictly accurate. When Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, the latest unemployment figure that the BLS had reported was 7.2 percent for December 2008. When the January unemployment rate came in a few weeks later, it was 7.6 percent. Only in February did the rate go above 7.8 percent, coming in at 8.1.
It continued to rise rapidly, reaching 10.2 percent in October 2009. (Unemployment is a lagging indicator: the recession officially ended in June 2009.) It stayed above 10 percent for three months, and then stayed above 9 percent for the next 21 months (with the exception of March 2011, when it briefly dipped to 8.9 percent). Only in October 2011, did it fall below 9 percent and stay there.
(The Wall Street Journal has a nifty interactive chart for monthly unemployment figures since January 1948. It shows graphically—in both the literal and metaphoric senses of the word—how brutal unemployment has been during the Obama presidency, far worse than any comparable period in the half-century measured by the chart.)
It’s still brutal, for job creation is still very anemic (a mere 114,000 in September). Most of what is making the jobs number decline is an increase in part-time jobs and the exit from the work force of people who are retiring or going on Social Security disability. The baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, is the pig in the work-force python. They are now retiring at the rate of about 3,000 a day. That is helping lower the unemployment number, but not helping the true unemployment situation.
It might be noted, as well, that the next jobs report comes out on November 2, the Friday before the election. That’s the traditional day to drop a bombshell on your opponent because it does not leave him enough time to respond effectively. Will the next unemployment figure be as bad news for Obama as last Friday’s was good news, a bombshell courtesy of the BLS? Assuming the September number was not manipulated, and I haven’t the slightest evidence (as opposed to hmmm-you-don’t-suppose? thoughts) that it is, it is at least even money that it will bounce back up, undoing the statistical anomaly of the previous month.
That would give the talking heads on Sunday, November 4, something to talk about.