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. Read
Today’s unemployment rate announcement offers another demonstration that every statistic demands a second (and third and fourth) look. News coverage of the Bureau of Labor Statistics announcement of December employment stats understandably focused on the overall unemployment rate , down from 9.8% to 9.4% — a good news story. But when you look just below the surface you find good news — and bad. While unemployment declined by .4 percent, the labor participation rate declined by .2 percent — half of the overall decline in unemployment. In other words, half of the decline is attributable to more people finding work — and half is attributable to fewer people looking for it.