The Big Story Blog

What the unemployment rate says and doesn't say

Posted at 8:40 AM on December 2, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Economy, Jobs and unemployment

It's good news, even if it may be a bit of an illusion.

Federal data released today show the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent in November, down from 9 percent. Private employers added 120,000 jobs in the month.

The jobless rate fell to its lowest level since March 2009, which is great. Behind that one stat, though, lie continued warnings about the country's economic health.

Data, for instance, show, "the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was little changed at 5.7 million and accounted for 43.0 percent of the unemployed."

Divisions remain wide or widening when the data is broken down by race.

The data today also show us that the number of Americans in the labor force dropped, a statistical point that can artificially make the unemployment rate look better.

Those kinds of issues are part of the territory when it comes to unemployment. Minnesota officials a couple weeks ago announced the state jobless rate dipped to 6.4 percent in October, even as the state lost 6,100 jobs in the month.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, wondered why we're so focused on the daily numbers.

Since BLS data have margin for error much greater than polls, why exactly do we pay such close attention each month? Just asking.
Dec 02 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Good point statistically. Emotionally, it's been four years since the start of the Great Recession and any news on the economy that looks good, we'll take.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.