What do you do if it is days from the presidential election and the final significant economic indicator ahead of the polling comes in strong, with 161,000 jobs added to the economy in October?
If you’re Donald Trump you dismiss Friday’s jobs report as a disaster.
“This disastrous jobs report underscores the total failures of the Obama-Clinton economy that delivers only for donors and special interests and robs working families,” Trump said in a statement, adding that President Barack Obama is the first modern president to lack a single year of economic growth above 3 percent.
That last part is correct, notwithstanding that it looks past the severity of the Great Recession and global factors that are dragging against growth.
Trump’s criticism, shared by many of his followers, went off the tracks, however, when he slammed the Friday jobs report for the 94 million people in the country who are not working.
Technically that number is right, but it reflects people not in the labor force because they have disabilities, are in college, are elderly and a steadily increasing number of baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, whose retirement in droves has long been predicted.
Over 14 million have left the workforce since Obama came into office, bringing the total not working to 94 million.
Statement Friday from the Trump campaign on October’s jobs report
Stay with us now as we go full wonk on Trump’s statement.
First, employment and unemployment are measured on completely different surveys. Employment estimates are based on a survey of employers with payrolls. The unemployment rate is determined from a survey of households. The distinction is important because economists discourage doing what Trump did – subtracting numbers from payroll data to make conclusions about high unemployment levels.
Now let’s tackle the numbers.
Government data shows that in February 2009, Obama’s first full month in office, the size of the civilian labor force was 154.2 million, 141.7 million were employed and 80.6 million were not in the labor force. Last month, the labor force stood at 159.7 million, with 151.9 million employed and 94 million not in the labor force.
The takeaway: The labor force has grown, and so has the number of people employed and people not in the workforce.
Back in 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t compile data for the population above 65, instead listing information about people 55 and up. In February 2009 just over 27 million people aged 55 and up were out of the labor force, as were about 10.5 million people aged 16 to 19.
It all points to this less-than-stunning conclusion: For the population as a whole, the composition of today’s workforce doesn’t look wildly different than it did almost eight years ago, and is clouded by the retiring boomers.
That may explain why Hillary Clinton did not initially comment Friday on the jobs report, simply retweeting someone else’s graphic showing the unemployment rate steadily falling since 2010.
If today’s labor market isn’t quite sizzling, it’s also not the “painful and massive decline” Trump alleged in his statement.