Unemployment data: Beware of what’s inside the stats
Statistics are like a birthday gift. You never know what you’ve really got until you unwrap them. Take today’s unemployment data (for December). It shows the unemployment rate at 10 percent. That’s still lower than the rate at the peak of the 1982 recession — 10.8 percent in December of that year. But any experienced speechwriter knows that topline numbers are only a starting point, not a finishing line.
Yes, the current unemployment stats are higher than 27 years ago. But start digging deeper and a different picture emerges. Take the November 2009 stats, for example, which also showed a 10 percent unemployment rate. Dig deeper, and you find that the unemployment rate for those with four-year college degrees actually was actually just under 5 percent. In other words, the college graduate population pulls down the overall rate. By how much? Obviously, that depends on what proportion of the workforce have four-year degrees. Currently about 30 percent of Americans over the age of 25 do. In 1982, it was less than 20 percent. So the difference in unemployment rates between now and 1982 is accounted for by the difference in the percentage of college grads.
For young people, the lesson is clear: Get a degree. For speechwriters, the lesson is: Get a calculator, and get your money’s worth out of it. Fortunately, that’s something most of us also learn when we’re young.