Ahhh the unemployment numbers: Ask a Republican what they mean and they’ll tell you that Obama is failing because the “real” unemployment rate (U6) is still high at 14.6% last month. Ask a Democrat what they mean and you’ll get the opposite, as they cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which put unemployment at 7.9% (U3). For a better understanding of how those numbers are calculated, hit my fellow pundit Michael Luciano’s article that provides a deeper explanation here.
Republicans like to use the U6 quite simply because it is a higher number. Politically, it sounds much better to fight the incumbent Democrat if you can say unemployment is at 14.6%. However, the BLS' official measurement of employment uses the basic unemployment definition as opposed to the U6, which makes the latter more of a rhetorical tool in this context.
I can see the desire to use U6 as a measure, because it takes into account those people who have dropped out of the hunt for work, which is what Republicans like to claim as getting down to the nitty gritty part of economic analysis. However, what you won’t hear from Romney is that the majority — 65% — of those who aren’t looking for a job anymore simply don’t want one. This admittedly leaves us with 35% who do, which is not good, but far less tragic than Republicans would have you believe.
Given Romney’s strategic use of the real unemployment rate to slay President Obama on unemployment numbers, I feel as though we should use that same standard for him should he take office. Why not? I’m willing to bet that a Romney White House would begin to use the standard unemployment figures as soon as it is strategically viable to do so, but keen eyes should see past that.
Like it or not, the U3 has long been the standard unemployment indicator; therefore both ought to play by its rules. Using other arbitrary numbers that are more politically advantageous to a given party — Republican or Democrat — is repugnant and only intensifies the esoteric nature of economics that people already have a tough time computing.
Luckily, it’s looking like we won’t have to worry about Romney’s arbitrary use of employment figures much longer.