The economy added 120,000 new jobs in November, pushing the
unemployment rate down from 9 percent to 8.6 percent, the lowest since President
Obama’s second month in office.
Actually, the private
sector picked up 140,000 new jobs because governments laid off 20,000
That should make
everyone happy. Democrats need unemployment to go down if they are to have a
chance at keeping the White House and some voice in the Congress. Republicans
will crow about the decrease in government workers.
But wait. The number of
unemployed dropped almost 600,000, from 13.9 million to 13.3 million, but only
120,000 new jobs were created. How does that math work?
No economist or
accountant or mathematician can explain that.
Only a moviemaker can
explain these numbers.
Barry Levinson, a
producer and director with more than three dozen movies to his credit, including
“Rain Man,” decided the economy isn’t just confusing. It’s comedy. He revised
Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine to explain how the
Department of Labor measures unemployment.
Here’s what Levinson
COSTELLO: I want to talk
about the unemployment rate in America.
ABBOTT: Good subject.
Terrible times. It’s 8.6 percent.
COSTELLO: That many
people are out of work?
ABBOTT: No, that’s 16
COSTELLO: You just said
ABBOTT: 8.6 percent
COSTELLO: Right 8.6
percent out of work.
ABBOTT: No, that’s 16
COSTELLO: Okay, so it’s
16 percent unemployed.
ABBOTT: No, that’s 8.6
COSTELLO: WAIT A MINUTE.
Is it 8.6 percent or 16 percent?
ABBOTT: 8.6 percent are
unemployed. 16 percent are out of work.
COSTELLO: If you are out
of work you are unemployed?
ABBOTT: No, you can’t
count the “out of work” as the unemployed. You have to look for work to be
COSTELLO: BUT THEY ARE
OUT OF WORK!!!
ABBOTT: No, you miss my
ABBOTT: Someone who
doesn’t look for work can’t be counted with those who look for work. It wouldn’t
COSTELLO: But they are
ALL out of work.
ABBOTT: No, the
unemployed are actively looking for work. Those who are out of work stopped
looking. They gave up. And, if you give up, you are no longer in the ranks of
COSTELLO: So if you’re
off the unemployment roles, that would count as less
would go down. Absolutely!
unemployment just goes down because you don’t look for work?
ABBOTT: Absolutely it
goes down. That’s how you get to 8.6 percent. Otherwise it would be 16 percent.
You don’t want to read about 16 percent unemployment do ya?
COSTELLO: That would be
COSTELLO: Wait, I got a
question for you. That means there are two ways to bring down the unemployment
ABBOTT: Two ways is
can go down if someone gets a job?
unemployment can also go down if you stop looking for a job?
COSTELLO: So there are
two ways to bring unemployment down, and the easier of the two is to just stop
looking for work.
ABBOTT: Now you’re
thinking like an economist.
COSTELLO: I don’t even
know what the hell I just said!
• • •
David Post is a co-owner of the
Salisbury Pharmacy and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.