Unemployment Rate and Political Insanity

With all of the overheated rhetoric, one would think that something truly sinister has happened. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that employment rose by 114,000 jobs in the month of September. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8%. Before I get into the world of political craziness, let’s just look at these numbers for second.


For the last several years, the unemployment rate has been slowly but steadily decreasing. Last month, the unemployment rate was 8.1%. In May, the unemployment rate was 8.2%. In January, the unemployment rate was 8.3%. We’ve seen a slow but steady decline in the unemployment rate since October of 2009. At that time, the unemployment rate hit 10%.


The economy added 114,000 jobs. Notice, in the above graph, which depicts the total number of Americans employed (nonfarm) has again steadily increased since late 2009. There’s no sudden change in the graph. We’ve seen slow and steady progress.

Now, I am not saying that the economy is perfect. I’m not saying that everything is fine. Instead, I’m saying that whatever policies and economic environment that Barack Obama and his administration have created has caused a slow and steady improvement in our economic situation. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, we are still in a 9.2 million jobs hole. This means that we still have a lot of work to do. It means that there are still millions of Americans who are looking for work and can’t find it. This means that we have to reinvigorate the American manufacturing industry. We need to make stuff. We need to make stuff that Americans will buy. We need to make stuff that the world will buy. We need to make that stuff here in the United States.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, along with many others on the right, believes that these numbers are just simply “too convenient.” As the above video points out, some find it too convenient that the unemployment rate drops below 8% just before an election. The craziness of this argument almost doesn’t need to be discussed. But, since it is getting mainstream media attention, I’ll guess I’ll address it. Where did this 8% number come from? It was made up. It is easy for us to say it is convenient that the unemployment rate has dropped below… pick a number. A year ago, we could easily have said it was amazing that the unemployment rate had magically dropped below 9% for the first time in over two years. This was just a year before the election! Any number, pick your number.

Here’s the deal. The economy is slowly getting better. It is not magically or dramatically getting better. It is slowly, almost excruciatingly slowly, getting better. Yet, there are those who prefer to have the economy in freefall. For them, it is politically advantageous for things to be getting worse. Therefore, they already had a plan of what they were going to say before the numbers came out today. If the numbers had shown that the unemployment rate rose and fewer than 100,000 Americans had found new jobs, the narrative would’ve been all about the failure of the Obama administration. On the other hand, with any visible improvement in the economic outlook, we were suddenly going to question the numbers. Suddenly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was going to be the issue. When the Clinton administration gained over 26 million jobs, nobody questioned the Bureau of Labor Statistics and their methods. When the economy was losing over 700,000 jobs per month, we didn’t hear a peep about how the Bureau of Labor Statistics came up with the numbers. Now, in front of an election, we see a drop in the unemployment rate from 8.1% to 7.8% (almost no statistical change in the unemployment rate) and we have a fervor. You decide. Is the fervor real?

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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