Lies, Damn Lies and Job Statistics-Part 2 Are You Underemployed?

This is Part 2 of a series. You can read Part 1 here.

The title of this post is a play on a famous saying by Benjamin Disraeli and quoted by Mark Twain. The point of this saying is that you can make statistics say almost anything, depending on how you present them.

Were you laid off from a high-paying full time job with healthcare benefits, and are now struggling to pay bills by delivering pizzas and shoveling driveways?

And did this change in status from full-time to part-time happen after Obamacare became the law of the land? Did your company drop your hours to under 30/week, so they wouldn’t be responsible for your ever-more-expensive health care insurance?

There’s a lot of competing studies trying to prove or disprove whether Obamacare (or, the Affordable Care Act) has caused a massive move of employers toward hiring only part time workers. But Hillary Clinton herself believes that it has:

“Well, that’s why they are going to part-time. That, and also, the Affordable Care Act. You know, we got to change that because we have built in some unfortunate incentives that discourage full-time employment.” –Hillary Clinton

But no worries. As long as you are working even just ONE HOUR A WEEK, you still count as an employed American and the statistical unemployment rate goes down, so it’s all good, right? Let’s celebrate FULL EMPLOYMENT everybody!

See, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

“people are considered employed if they did any work at all for pay or profit …. This includes all part-time and temporary work ….”

Of course, knowing you are “employed” doesn’t help you much. You’re earning less, you’ve lost your employee health benefits and contributions to your 401(k), and you can’t pay your mortgage – but as long as the BLS says you’re employed, nobody really cares.

You have now joined the ranks of the “underemployed,” which is defined as “Wanting a full-time job but having only a part-time job; being overqualified for a job and receiving less pay than would be earned at a job requiring a higher skill level.”

Here’s a chart showing the number of Americans who are working “part time for economic reasons” (which means they’d rather be working full-time but can’t find a job):

According to the BLS, as of November 2016, there are about 5.6 million Americans who want full-time jobs but are still struggling along with part-time jobs even eight years after the Great Recession and six years after Obamacare hit. Yet, according to the November jobs report, unemployment is down to “normal” as long as it’s under 5 percent.

Reminds me of the man I met last year at a Trump campaign volunteer meeting. As someone in his late 40s or early 50s with children in college, he was laid off from his full-time, good-paying IT job and was trying to get by on $10/hr working at a construction job alongside illegal immigrants. Oh, and this man was a LEGAL immigrant from India.

So, to sum up, according to statistics, this poor guy is just as well and fully employed as a fund manager at Goldman Sachs making 500K plus bonuses.

And that’s why statistics are very often lies wrapped up in pretty charts and graphs, designed to fool the public.

But now, the secret weapon for the unemployed AND the underemployed is making his way to the White House. It’s going to be a Great Christmas this year, and we’re going to Make America Great Again!

And as an early Christmas gift, here’s a fun song about statistics that will make you laugh.

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  • Mark

    This method of computing unemployment also biases STEM unemployment numbers downwards. As STEM graduates will, simply to survive, take a job delivering pizzas or similar. Hence, they’re not only not counted as unemployed, but they’re certainly not counted as unemployed STEM workers.

    • That’s a great point, Mark. Bad numbers all around.