Lies, damn lies and unemployment data

Great depression food line sculpture Kevin Burkett via Flickr

COMMENTARY Reading the media coverage from Friday's Labor Department employment report, you'd think things are looking up for the economy and the unemployed. Well, they're not. And while I hate to be the bringer of bad news, there are things I hate even more, like optimistic sound bites that hide the big picture and selfish politicians who mislead the public.

Yes, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent and we added 120,000 jobs in November. Whoopee. Roughly half the improvement is because 315,000 workers finally gave up on finding a job and the other half is from seasonal jobs in retail, restaurants and bars. Not only that, but we need to add about 100,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.

Instead of fishing for good news in a monthly report, if you look at the big picture, you can't help but see that we're still in deep you-know-what.

Although the economy has been adding roughly 100,000 jobs per month on average, that's a drop in the bucket compared to the eight million plus jobs that were lost in the Great Recession, or whatever you want to call the mortgage crisis and banking meltdown.

At 34 months and counting, this is the longest streak of greater than 8 percent unemployment since they started tracking it monthly in 1948.

Economic and employment forecasts for 2012 are anything but encouraging. A recent survey by the National Association for Business Economics pegs U.S. economic growth at a sluggish 2.4 percent next year and unemployment remaining more or less unchanged at 8.7 percent in 2012.

The debt crisis here and in Europe, new legislation like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank and an overall climate of economic and political uncertainty all conspire to keep companies from hiring and consumers from spending -- Black Friday notwithstanding.

And yet, in a speech Friday at the White House, President Obama wasted little time before breaking out the Kool-Aid to celebrate the news:

As President, my most pressing challenge is doing everything I can every single day to get this economy growing faster and create more jobs. This morning we learned that our economy added another 140,000 private sector jobs in November. The unemployment rate went down. And despite some strong headwinds this year, the American economy has now created in the private sector jobs for the past 21 months in a row; that's nearly 3 million new jobs in all, and more than half a million over the last four months.

I'm sure the president can also spin some convincing rhetoric about how his administration made all that happen, and how catastrophic it would have been if he hadn't pushed through all the legislation that hurled our nation into record debt, among other things.

Well, here's a dose of reality. Politicians can give speeches about economic recovery and job creation all they like, but until November of 2012, Obama's No. 1 priority is to make sure he gets reelected, and the GOP's No. 1 priority is to make sure he doesn't. Until that gets resolved, not a whole lot is going to get done in Washington.

In the mean time, we'll surely see another year of record or near-record unemployment, indebtedness and sluggish growth. While the only real engine of job creation -- conditions that foster long-term economic prosperity like a balanced budget, deficit reduction and a simplified flat tax system -- sits in idle waiting for the next political cycle to begin.

Look, I know that sounds sad, even depressing, but sometimes the truth hurts. The good news is that when people truly understand that bad news is here to stay unless they do something differently, they tend to get up off their butts, take action and bring about real change. That's sort of the idea. Now, more than ever, we need real leadership in Washington, but that has to start with "we the people."

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