A Survey of the Current Population

unemployedI have officially been unemployed for a month and three days.  I’m a one in that number of those seeking unemployment benefits in the month of July, a number widely used to gauge the health or improvement in the US economy.  That number has declined again for the month of June.

 I have survived five recessions in the US economy since 1973 when I officially entered the labor force.  The worst unemployment number during that time was in 1982 at 9.7%, not 2010, 9.6%, or 2011, 8.9%, or 2012, 8.1% or 2013, 7.4% as you might expect.  As of June 2014, the unemployment rate had declined to 6.1%.  Full employment in this country is considered to be a 5.0% unemployment rate.  I don’t know why, but 5% of the working population not working seems like a pretty big number.  Unless you are employed or unemployed but looking for work, you are not actually counted in the labor force where that percentage comes from.  Those living in institutions and those on active duty in the Armed Forces are also not included, another big number.  So the unemployment rate measures the share of workers in the labor force that are not currently working but are actively looking for work.  Doesn’t that seem to eliminate a large number of people?

 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, the employment situation for June 2014 was that the unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent.  Job gains were in ”professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and health care.”  For those not employed in farm related jobs, the total employment gain for the month was 288,000.  I’m not in that number.  And if you think they’re actually counting them, they’re not.  They survey 60,000 eligible households each month, which equates to 110,000 people, to come up with that number.  Those people making the calls every month are employed, and in the labor force, and that’s a lot of phone calls.

 alphabet soupThis survey is called the Current Population Survey or, in government acronyms, the CPS.  This survey has been conducted every month since it was instituted as a Work Projects Administration program in 1940.  That, of course, was the WPA, one of FDR’s “Alphabet Agencies” intended to pull us out of the Great Depression.  The U.S. Census Bureau took over responsibility for the CPS in 1942. (Probably known as the USCB).  The unemployment estimates in the CPS are considered to be 90% statistically correct or within 300,000 of what they would get with a total census.  And the surveyors don’t specifically ask if the person is unemployed.  Instead they ask a number of questions and then feed the results into a computer and it decides if they are employed, unemployed or not in the labor force.  I guess if they answer the phone and they take the time to answer the questions, they’re going to be truthful.  I don’t usually do either.

 It surprised me that there were 676,000 “discouraged workers” in June.  That’s what they call the people no longer looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available to them, but they are still marginally counted in the labor force.  There are another 1.4 million people that are marginally counted in the labor force that are not actively looking for work because they might have family responsibilities or are going to school full-time, for example.

 I guess the only thing the unemployment rate does is make you feel better that it’s going down and not up, especially if you are a one in that number.  You can pretty much analyze the data any way you want.  The government has been tracking the unemployment rate for more than 60 years.

 We started tracking unemployment in the US following World War II in 1948.  The magic number was 3.8%!  In 1953 it was 2.9%.  This was during a recession and President Eisenhower did nothing to spur the economy.  In 1969 the unemployment rate was at 3.5% and it has been going up ever since, except for a short period in 2000 when the unemployment rate fell to 4.0%.  Bill Clinton was president, but he had little to do with the improvement.  It was basically fueled by low energy prices and the information technology revolution.  Everyone was feeling pretty good about the economy, but it didn’t last long.

 And this is something I find a little hard to believe:  “In June, average hourly earnings of private-sector and non-supervisory employees increased by 4 cents to $20.58.”  (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor).  How many of you out there are making twenty bucks an hour?  I want a shot at that job.  Some of the job descriptions I’ve read in the last few months are asking an awful lot for a starting salary of $10.80 an hour.  I just finished a phone interview for a job that starts at $13.00 and I actually tried to sound like I was interested in it.  The job duties listed were over a thousand words, and took ten minutes to describe to me by the recruiter on the other end of the line, followed by other duties as assigned.  I discovered that a Corporate Operations Representative is a fancier title for a mail clerk.

 The largest employer in the State of New Mexico, where I live, is The University of New Mexico with 10,000+ employees.  Number two is Los Alamos National Laboratories, followed by Albuquerque Journal Retail, UNM Hospitals and Albuquerque Health Partners all with between 5,000 and 9,999 employed.  I have resumes with cover letters in to all of them.  Haven’t heard a word.  Wait, I did receive an email response from Los Alamos National Laboratories stating they were pursuing other applicants that more closely matched the requirements for the position.  I don’t understand how I don’t qualify as a Red Hat Network Satellite Server System Administrator.

 For me the unemployment rate in July 2014 is 100%.  I’m trying real hard not to add a one to the discouraged workers number for the month.  Enough said.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “A Survey of the Current Population

  1. I’m sorry but these numbers make my head spin and I don’t believe any of them. I don’t see how the unemployment rate can possibly be going down and the pay rate going up. I live on less than half of what I was making 15 years ago and work twice as hard for it. I will probably never pay off my credit card debt (which was for urgent home repairs, not lunches or travel), so that means I will never again be a consumer of anything except absolute necessities.

    Every year more trades become automated, obsolete, or are sent overseas. I had to call my mortgage company yesterday and I tried three times to get a customer service rep that wasn’t a Pakistani male and finally gave up. I had one simple question that did not get answered. If the US population is stupid enough to believe that outsourcing and automation doesn’t affect current and future employment for the masses then I’m glad I won’t be around in 50 years when no one but the fat bloated government will have jobs.

    Optimistic BS numbers cooked up by the government are not a valid reflection of the serious unemployment problem we have and in fact are damaging. It’s not just the money we need to survive, it’s morale, productivity, a reason to live. Look at any population-counter website and then tell me what the plan is, I’d like to know.

    I live on the border in AZ and my neighbors tell me AZ is so pathetic that even the illegals make fun of it. I would make more money heading to CA or FL to pick fruit than living here cleaning houses and doing freelance work for $10 an hour (and I have to buy supplies, gas, etc.), and trying to hang on to a house which goes down in value every year.

    Sorry for the rant—the current government’s handling of this most serious issue infuriates me! (And best of luck in your job search…)

  2. No need to apologize for the rant. I agree with everything you said. The point I was trying to make is the percentage of unemployed will logically decrease because of the way they manipulate the labor force number. I predict it will continue to go down and be close to a full employment number of 5% by the time the election rolls around. Obama is already taking credit for the improvement.

  3. The interesting thing about all these official statistics is that all the government has to do is change the definition of what they are measuring and poof! the numbers can look better or worse. It’s a mid-term election year right? No big surprise that the numbers are looking better…

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