Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, January 6, 2014, at Fox News.

Why most Americans believe the US economy is poor (and they're right)

By John R. Lott, Jr.

It has been over four-and-a-half years since the economic “recovery” began, yet a new CNN poll indicates that almost seven out of every ten Americans considers the economy to be in poor shape.

Democrats want to claim that the economy is improving at the same time that they will be pushing Monday for a continued extension of unemployment benefits. Democrats also refuse to acknowledge that up to two years of unemployment insurance benefits actually creates unemployment.

Indeed, people are so worried about the job market that they are clinging to their current jobs at remarkably high rates.

Quit rates that usually rise after recessions, particularly after long recessions when they have stayed with jobs they might not care for, are still lower over the last three months than they were during the recession.

But how can that possibly be?

The official unemployment rate keeps falling. We are told that the job market is improving. Are Americans just not realizing that things are getting better? Or do they perceive of something that the unemployment numbers are not picking up?

The answer is the latter.

The unemployment numbers do not accurately reflect the state of the labor market. The reason is that the unemployment rate only considers those who are actively looking for work, failing to include the ones who have become so discouraged that they no longer look for a job.

Even the broader U6 measure of unemployment only includes these discouraged workers in its count for just one year. With the traditional measure of unemployment that keeps being reported on the news, these discouraged individuals are counted as officially having left the labor force.

Imagine if workers had not dropped out and that the labor force participation had remained the same as it was when Obama became president 60 months ago.

The figure above shows what the unemployment rate would have been had we included these people as officially unemployed.

As we can see, the official unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009 and slowly fell to 7 percent today. But if we add the drop-outs to the unemployed, the current rate would still be 11 percent, virtually unchanged since it hit 11.1 percent in October 2009.

So what about all the administration’s talk about growth in the number of jobs? It now stands at 190,000 jobs a month over the last three months.

This is indeed a clear improvement, but we need to remember that with a steadily growing population, about 133,000 new jobs are needed to keep the percentage employed the same.

In other words, there are merely 57,000 “extra” jobs each month, a very small improvement in the job markets.

To put it in some perspective, if the same percentage of the population were working today as was working when Obama took office in January 2009, there would be over 8 million more Americans in the labor force. With about 7.2 million actually working.

It will take a very long time indeed to make up for this loss of jobs. To be precise, over a hundred years, talk about a slow recovery just to get back to where we were at the start of the Obama presidency.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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