Unemployment statistics: kabuki dance of masking

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So, yet another unemployment number has been released and statistics shows that the number is a bit “up”. Not surprising, given how distorted economical landscape is. But I still keep wondering, when the statistics will be brought to something more natural and/or useful.

The correct answer is, of course, “never”. Because it makes politicians look bad (and it doesn’t matter if it’s republican or democrat party that holds the reins). Most appropriate statistics would be something like this:

1. Overall number of people who are capable to work. Fringe – workers with disabilities who can’t work more than a few hours, or have severe restrictions on types of jobs they can hold. This would give the “base number” for all subsequent calculations.
2. Overall number of people who are employed on a regular basis with resulting annual salary exceeding the poverty level. This would be “the” number of employed people — someone who is holding “a job” no matter what kind it is. The reason I define it as a “regular” rather than going with 36 or any other fixed number of hours, is that for some occupations it’s quite possible to have comfortable living while spending less hours “working”. Say, if you’re a singer or a painter, and only bother to do something for 10 hours a week, while waiting for inspiration the rest of the week, should you be counted as ‘partially employed’? If you make good money, the answer is “fully employed”.

The ratio between these two numbers would give a real unemployment figure. It wouldn’t “go up because the economy is good and more people are looking for a job”. It wouldn’t go down because “the economy is bad and people get discouraged”. It would simply show the real ratio of people who can work and who actually do work.

Now, there could be further refinements:
3. a) People who only receive government assistance or b) Dependents c) those who receive more than a certain percentage of their income from the government assistance

That would show what percentage of population depends fully on government subsidies, welfare, etc. and those who have problems with job and thus have to rely at least partially on assistance.

I think the more accurate economical figures are, the better understanding of processes we will have. When things are masked and “seasonably adjusted” all the time, it hides the real state of things from everyone, including people responsible of assessing the economy and planning effective measure of correcting overreactions.

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