Posts Tagged ‘employment’

Tweaking the Truth

Friday, 9 January 2009

Here's an example of a wretched journalistic practice:

US job losses hit record in 2008 from the BBC
More US workers lost jobs last year than in any year since World War II, with employers axing 2.6 million posts and 524,000 in December alone.

The US jobless rate rose to 7.2% in December, the highest in 16 years.
One should not begin with a news story with a lie, and then correct it. The head-line here doesn't refer to a post-war record. A head-line is often the only part of the story read, and almost always the first part of the story read. So people with no sense of history — because their educators in the school system and in the main-stream media don't impart one to them — are filled with anxiety and rage. The emotional effect lingers even after the correction is given, and some never get the correction.

The economic news has been bad, but it simply doesn't compare to that of the Great Depression — which itself shouldn't be seen as necessarily our worse down-turn. (Those who uncritically presume that it was should look into the Depression of 1837.)

One should, BTW, be careful to distinguish amongst different statistics:

  • the number of jobs lost,
  • the unemployment rate,
  • the employment rate,
  • changes in these rates.
Note that the article acknowledges that the unemployment rate is not at a post-war high; it has, rather, climbed faster than at any time previous in the post-war period. The unemployment rate itself was worse at the end of the kinder, gentler Administration of GHW Bush.

Second, when there is job creätion as well as job loss, people may lose jobs but spend relatively little time unemployed. (Being dismissed from a job is still a stressful experience for most people, but not necessarily equivalent to being materially impoverished.)

Finally, the unemployment rate is not simply the complement of the employment rate. The unemployment rate, which tries to measure the number people who are seeking employment and unable to find it, is a fairly junky statistic. On the one hand, it doesn't count people who would choose to work if the were offered a job, but who have just given-up hope of finding one; and it doesn't count people who are under-employed, wanting full-time jobs but only able to secure part-time employment. On the other hand, it does count people who aren't sincerely seeking employment, but are going through the motions of seeking a job so that they can continue to collect benefits from programmes that require them to seek employment. The employment rate is simply the percentage of people of working age who have jobs. It has problems — including that it counts under-employed people — but it's less junky that the unemployment rate.