Job statistics

There's a new twist to the ongoing attempts of the administration to distort the unemployment picture by focusing on the discrepancies between DOL's two job statistics, the household survey and the payroll survey. As I've mentioned before, most economists think the payroll survey is the more accurate measure of unemployment, but the discrepancy between the two methodologies is still significant. Specifically, it suggests that the jobs replacing those lost in the recession are less secure and lower paying (the household survey simply asks respondents whether they are working, thus capturing any sort of paid labor, while a job must be documented on a company payroll to count on the payroll survey). Household survey partisans call this 'self employment' and praise the 'entrepreneurial spirit' which must be driving it.

I think 'off the books', 'under the table', or perhaps 'day-laborer' are probably closer to the truth. It's really quite remarkable that the self-employment trend among a narrow band of upper-middle class workers in intellectual fields can be so recklessly compared to the plight of a broad swath of middle class people who can't find steady jobs. What do these people expect us to believe? That laid-off textile workers are now writing columns and working on biotech startups? Honestly.

But regardless, there's now another reason not to discredit all that 'hand-wringing' about job loss just quite yet. The Federal Reserve has scrutinized the population estimates used to calculate total job loss from the household survey and found that recent population estimates have probably been overstated, thus inflating the data.

I've never been quite sure why the administration has been giving attention to this harebrained scheme. After months of albeit thin sympathy for the ranks of the unemployed, is he one day going to announce that the whole job loss thing was just a myth and that his administration actually has a kick-ass jobs record? They have to know that's not a viable contingency plan. Then again, they have tried erasing our collective memories before, to encouraging degrees of success. I can see the CNN crawl headline now: "White House to Unemployed: You actually do have a job"


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