Having had the fortune be gainfully
employed since the fall of 1990, unemployment numbers have always
seemed kind of abstract to me. Eight percent doesn't really seem
that high to me, but when certain people seemed to lose it over the
unemployment number dropping from 8.3 percent to 7.8 percent over a
couple of months, it caught my attention.
There was no way, certain pundits said,
that this number could have fell by half a percent in just two
months. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch even wrote an article
in the Wall Street Journal laying out the fuzzy math. Welch made
reference to an election year ploy and conservatives immediately
jumped on that bus.
By the way, according to Welch,
unemployment numbers are compiled by unemployment applications and
phone calls to ask people if they've been working. Did you know
that?Unemployment applications I can understand, but calling
somebody and saying, "Hey, did you work last month?" That doesn't
seem very scientific.
But that's not what we're here to
discuss. I'm always amused and baffled by the idea that people
think 92 percent employment is a sure sign the world is going
downhill at a rate faster than the speed limit.
And unemployment seems to be the only
area where this kind of math gets people upset. This is the south, so
let's use NASCAR as an example. Every year, some driver who wins
six or seven races is crowned the champion and sports pundits will
inevitably call it one of the greatest performances ever. Never mind
the 30 races he lost.
Or let's look at baseball, where near
constant failure is rewarded with millions of dollars. Would you like
to do your job successfully three out of every 10 times and have your
boss give in when you demand a 10,000 percent raise or you're going
Yet, mention that we have 92 percent of
our workforce employed and all you hear is yelling and screaming that
we're a bunch of lazy ingrates with our hands out who don't
deserve to breathe the same air as rich people.
And in reality, if what I've always
heard is true, the unemployment rate is actually about three percent.
Hold on. Stop calling me a socialist and hear me out.
The rule of thumb, so I've been told
over the years, is that when unemployment hits 5 percent or less,
it's thought we're fully employed. That last five percent is made
of those who either don't want to work, or can't. It's a
combination of the truly lazy, the physically unable, the mentally
handicapped and those lucky enough not to need to work. Or so I've
If that five percent rule is true, and
the unemployment rate is eight percent, doesn't that mean the
unemployment rate is really only three percent? Am I doing the math
right on that?
I'm not trying to make light of
anybody being out of work. I truly am grateful I can only imagine
what it must be like to suddenly have to face the fact you could lose
everything in just a few months, while being told you're a moocher
who deserves nothing, much less a hand up.
But to think that a 92 percent success
rate (really a 97 percent success rate if the old saw s true) is
something to sneer at and be fearful of, that I just don't
I guess it's all perspective,
especially in the political arena. Whichever party isn't in power
certainly isn't going to give the one in power any kind of credit,
so I'd guess we could have one percent unemployment and there would
still be hollering about that one percent and how the party not in
power could so much better if you'd just elect them.
And if you're one of those people who
say the numbers are all lies and the unemployment rate is actually 15
percent, I'd use the same argument about 85 percent employment.
Now, excuse me while I ponder my bad
decision making in not learning how to swing a baseball bat so I
could get millions for doing my job right 25 percent of the time.
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