March 24, 2023

Economix Blog: Getting the Number Wrong

Mitt Romney said on Friday that there were 23 million Americans struggling to find work. It looks as if he got that wrong, by engaging in a little double counting. The real number is around 21 million.



Notions on high and low finance.

The just-released Labor Department report for September says there are 12,088,000 people classified as unemployed, meaning they looked for a job during the previous month and did not find one. That is the seasonally adjusted figure. The actual number the department estimated was 11,742,000.

There are no seasonally adjusted numbers for the other groups that could conceivably fit into the category — people not in the labor force who say they would like work if they could find it and people classified as “marginally attached” to the labor force.

There are 6,427,000 people counted as out of the labor force but wanting to work, and 2,517,000 classified as marginally attached.

Add them together, and use the higher (seasonally adjusted) figure for unemployment, and you get 21,032,000. If you were trying to be fair and compare apples to apples, you’d used all numbers before seasonal adjustment, and get 20,686,000.

Either way, that is a long way from 23 million.

So where did the rest come from? My guess is that Mr. Romney’s aides looked at Table A-16 of the release. That shows the 2,517,000 “marginally attached,” and breaks them into two groups. The first is 802,000 discouraged workers, and the rest — 1,715,000 — are classified as people who are deemed to be marginally attached but are not discouraged workers. That includes people who were ill or had school or family responsibilities that kept them from looking for work. If you add those two groups to the whole, then the number gets to be over 23 million. But that would represent a misreading of the figures.

Even if Mr. Romney had done his arithmetic correctly, it would be a stretch to say there were 21 million people “struggling to find work.” Of the 6.4 million who said they were not in the labor force but would work if they could, 3.3 million said they had not actually tried to find a job in the last year.

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