Talkin’ unemployment blues

President Obama made an appearance in the White House press room on Friday to take a victory lap over the fall of the official unemployment rate (U-3) to 4.9 percent (video below, about 15 minutes). Is that number for real? Referring to the hell he saw tending to wounded men during the Civil War, Walt Whitman held that “the real war will never get in the books.” By the same token,I wonder if the real unemployment will ever get in the books.

Around the time Obama appeared in the press room on Friday, Paul Bedard disrespectfully asks at the Examiner “What jobs? BLS says 655,000 job losses.” Bedard reports: “New Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there were 665,000 jobs lost in January, a blunt finding that confuses the heralded report that 151,000 jobs were created in January in non-farm payrolls.”

Obama took two questions, the second from Kevin Corke. Corke asked about the low labor participation rate, which rose slightly in January. At the Free Beacon, Ali Meyer takes up this aspect of the story in “94,062,000 Americans not in labor force while participation rate improves in January.” She reports:

The “real” unemployment rate, otherwise known as the U-6 measure, was 9.9 percent, which remained the same from the previous month. Some Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen have said that this measure is more representative of the labor market because it accounts for discouraged workers and those working part time instead of full time for economic reasons.

There were nearly six million Americans working part-time in January, but not by choice. According to the bureau, involuntary part-time workers are “persons who indicated that they would like to work full time but were working part time (1 to 34 hours) because of an economic reason, such as their hours were cut back or they were unable to find full-time jobs.”

John Williams’ Shadow Employment Stats has posted an alternate unemployment chart, including both U-3 and U-6 as well as Williams’ third (“alternative unemployment rate”) number. Jerome Corsi explains the third number here. It can’t be that bad, can it?


Until the slight uptick in the last report, the labor participation rate had been declining roughly since mid-2000. See, e.g., the St. Louis Fed chart Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate from 1950 almost to date. Three St. Louis Fed economists take a closer look at the numbers here.

It’s an important subject, but I don’t know. I am only sure of one thing. That Obama — he can talk.

UPDATE: John Crudele has more here.