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Friday, August 31, 2012

Republicans Claim 23 Million Unemployed?

Clint Eastwood said something at the Republican National Convention about 23 million Americans being unemployed, but the official unemployment number in July 2012 is 12,794,000 unemployed.

(*See my update towards the middle of this page.) 

And don't miss this companion piece:  If so many are unemployed, where are the benefits?

A reader asked:
Why do Republicans continue to say that 23 million Americans are out of work if your numbers suggest 12 million? Where are they getting that number from?
My reply:
It's an issue of definitions.  They are using alternate unemployment numbers, which have always been calculated, but never used officially.
Which of these groups of people would you consider unemployed other than people actively looking for work? 
People who are discouraged and have not looked for work for over a month? People who haven't looked for work for over a year?  16 year old high school kids who want to get a part-time job after school?

Someone who says they want a job but they haven't applied anywhere, spoken to anyone, or made any phone calls about employment for the past month?

People who haven't looked for work in the past month because they are ill?  People who haven't looked for work for the past month because their car has died?  People who are working part-time but want a full-time job?

People who are retired? People who are home with young children?

The constant definition of unemployment, the one that has been used for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations, is that someone has to be actively looking for work, at least one resume, one application, one interview OR one contact, within the past four weeks to be considered officially "unemployed". 
In addition, people need to be 16 or over to be counted.  Also, people in the military or people in institutions such as prisons or nursing homes are NOT counted. 
There are alternate numbers of unemployment that include some of the groups I  listed above, but they have ALWAYS been considered "alternate". The Republicans don't want to give Obama credit for anything, so they have now pivoted away from the usual and constant definition of unemployment to one of these alternate definitions of unemployment.
Now, the "official" definition of unemployment does include 16 and 17 year olds who are looking for a part-time job after school. Of the 12,800,000 people officially looking for work, 2,000,000 of them are looking for part-time jobs. Of those 2 million, 500,000 are high school aged kids looking for part-time work during school. Another 300,000 are college aged kids looking for part-time work. If we didn't count these part-time kids, the unemployment rate would be 7.8%.
But it's best to stick to calculations like this that are tried and true and widely used.

Update 9/2/2012:   Here are various numbers of people who are considered unemployed, employed, or "not in the labor force" as of July 2012.  Which of these groups or subgroups would you consider "unemployed"?

There are 9,307,000 people 18 and over now unemployed who are ACTIVELY looking for full-time work:

  • Start with 12,974,000 officially unemployed, as described above.
  • The above number includes about 650,000 young people (16 to 19 years of age) enrolled in school who want part-time or summer work (vs. full-time year round work). 
  • The above number includes about another 1,600,000 people 20+ who are looking for part-time work (vs. full-time work).
  • The above number also includes 1,417,000 people who are on temporary layoff but expect to return to work.  
  • Subtract these groups out, and there are about 9,307,000 people 18 and over now unemployed who are ACTIVELY looking for full-time work. 
  • In addition, 878,000 of these 9 million people QUIT their last jobs.  (They weren't laid off, nor were they new workers; they actually quit.  Should they be counted?)

8,246,000 people who are working part-time and want to work full-time, but...
  • 8,246,000 people are working part-time but want to work full-time.  However: 
  • Of these 8,246,000, 5,342,000 are working part-time because of "slack work or business conditions" at their part-time job.  This includes insufficient demand (about 5,193,000*) and seasonal periods of slack work (about 338,000*).  We don't know how many of these people expect to return to full-time work in the next weeks or months nor do we know if any of these people are now actively looking for work elsewhere.  (This number is down from 5,695,000 a year ago.)* These two numbers do not add up due to seasonal adjustment factors.
  • Of the 8,246,000 "involuntary part-time workers", 2,576,000 say they can only find part-time work.  We have no way of knowing how many of these people are actively looking for full-time work elsewhere.
  • Remember that these involuntary part-time workers have NEVER been considered as part of the officially unemployed.  Even in the best of recent times (since 2000), we have had at least 3,000,000 involuntary part-time workers.  

About those 2,529,000 "marginally attached" workers:
  • Another 2,529,000 people are "marginally attached to the labor force".  Please understand that people who are "marginally attached to the labor force" are people who have NOT LOOKED FOR WORK in the past four weeks.  However, these people DID look for work sometime in the past year.  Would you count people as unemployed if they did not look for work?   
  • These are the reasons these "marginally attached" people have not looked for work in the past four weeks:
  • 852,000 are "discouraged over job prospects".  (This is down from 1,119,000 last year.)
  • 260,000 have not looked for work in the past month due to "family responsibilities".
  • 249,000 have not looked for work in the past month because they were in school or in training.
  • 203,000 have not looked for work in the past month because they have been ill or were disabled.
  • 965,000 did not look for work for "other" reasons, including some who had child-care or transportation problems. (No breakdown available of these 965,000 people.)
  • Remember that these "marginally attached" workers have NEVER been considered as part of the officially unemployed.  

You decide:  Who would you count as unemployed?

I will update this post later with historical numbers on these figures.  In the meantime, you decide:  Who would you count as unemployed and who would you not count?  
  • Do people have to be looking for work in the past month before you would count them?  
  • Should part-time people who want full-time work be counted if they aren't actively looking for that full-time work?
  • Should people who quit their last job (vs. being laid off) be counted?      

Something else to think about:

If the unemployment situation is still SO bad and there has been NO
improvement- then why have the Republicans in Congress been pushing so strongly for fewer weeks of unemployment compensation for the unemployed and claiming that longer terms of unemployment keep people from getting work?  If unemployment is so bad that Obama should not be reelected.. why did they want to cut off unemployment benefits from the unemployed?    

More about the 23,000,000 unemployed HERE at the bottom of the page at



  1. You have a good thorough answer even if it is a bit slanted. My question though... From reading your site you say you do a lot of research and attempt to clear up a lot of misinformation on employment numbers. It appears though that you are simply going with what is in the dept. of Labor statistics for your "official" unemployment number. I don't trust that any more than I do what is stated in a convention speech. Am I missing something?

  2. I need to run out, so just a quick question back to you:

    Where else would you get any numbers of how many are employed or unemployed?

    Two private organizations attempt to compute monthly employment and unemployment numbers. One is ADP, which computes private-sector jobs numbers. Overtime they parallel the BLS numbers, though they may be different in any given month. Gallup also computes an unemployment rate which parallels the BLS rate over time. I have a graph which plots the BLS and Gallup rates, but I don't have time to post it now.. I will later.

  3. Where does Romney and Eastwood come up with the number 23 million unemployed with a population of 314 million which is 7.3 percent of the entire population. I guess he wants kids under 10 and seniors over 80 to join the work force by gutting child labor laws and social security.

    1. They are using the "alternate" unemployment numbers, which are never used when the Repubs were in office. I added a bunch of numbers to this article this afternoon.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Statistics are wonderful things. They can be manipulated to say pretty much whatever someone wants. You obviously are an Obama fan, Reflections of a Rational Republican is obviously not. You both come up with the same numbers but interpret them in ways favorable to your own interests. The American way.

    You ask Republicans why they want to reduce the unemployment benefits: your interpretation is that it's because the economy is improving; I say it's because they want to stop entitlement payments, giving money away to people that are not even trying to find work, which you say does not make them unemployed. They give a solid number of 23 million Americans out of work, you say that's incorrect because they are using alternate numbers. Who came up with the 'alternate' numbers in the first place? A government agency, doubtful. Most likely a private entity that wants the truth instead of what the governments interpretation of it is.

    Just Like Bill Clinton's 'interpretation' that he never had sexual relations with that woman. It did not fit in with anybody else's definition of the act.

    I say, if you want people to really believe Obama is doing better, include those numbers which most people believe and I think rightly so; include massive amounts of people that have just given up on finding a job. And just because someone is not using government programs to find work does not mean they are not looking. And if someone's car is broken down and they can't pay to fix it because they don't have a job seems like a pretty good case for unemployment as well. Same as someone that can't pay for daycare because they don't have any money because they don't have a job. Granted it's a Catch-22 but for those people it's very real.

    You exclude those people in your 'interpretation' of the facts yet they still exist. Anyone with any knowledge of statistics knows that you only deal with the ones that make your hypothesis look good, so for all practical purposes both yours and Reflections of a Rational Republican's numbers leave something to be desired. One number he includes that I have not seen in your posts is Labor Force Participation Rate which is a BLS number and it shows a marked decline in the number of Americans involved in the work force.

    So, until you want to tell, as Paul Harvey said, the REST OF THE STORY, your numbers as well as RRR's numbers are suspect.

    Basically, all one needs to do is check their own wallet or checking account to tell is they are better or worse off than when Obama took office and I think the majority will tell you that they are not.

    I'm not, my parents (staunch Republicans their whole life) that were hood-winked by Obama's charm, are definitely not. We even have a new term for certain people affected by this administration: boomerang kids. Home ownership has gone down every year Obama has been in office. Federal debt has exploded. Our military is weaker, we keep trying to be the caretaker of the world yet we have people in our own country that are homeless and starving while we send billions of dollars in aid to countries that don't even like us.

    Change, yes it is definitely time for one. One for the better which I think Obama just cannot do because he is in over his head.

    1. Sorry, Steve, I will get back to you later today. I've been inundated with comments and other work.

  5. Whatever the method the Republicans are using. It is WRONG.

    US population is 311M with a 8.1% unemployment rate you get 25 millions unemployed close to the 23 million Clint and all repub refer to. The only catch is they are also counting kids under 16 and people over 65 who have already retired!!!!!
    The BLS says 12 millions are unemployed...... The Republicans just double that figure..... kinda scary for some people who want to get back in power!

    1. The unemployment rate is the number of people who are unemployed and actively looking for work (whether full-time or part-time work) as a percentage of all people who are either working or actively looking for work. The numerator is the number of people unemployed and actively looking for work, and the denominator is the number of people who are either working or actively looking for work.

      People who are younger than 16, people who are in school and not working nor looking for work, parents home with children, retired people are not counted as part of the civilian labor force that is used to calculate the unemployment rate.

      So all 300,000,000 plus people in the U.S. are NOT used to determine the unemployment rate.

      In the last month, the "civilian labor force" (people working or looking for work) amounted to 155,013,000 people. 8.3% of those people, or about 12,800,000, were not working but were looking for work.

      As I mentioned above, the Republicans added back people 1) who were working part-time jobs but want full-time jobs and 2) people who didn't look for work in the past four weeks but said they were able to take a job.

      These two groups have never been considered part of the "official" unemployment rate.

      I have more info about calculating the unemployment rate HERE

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  6. I think it would be interesting to know what the "alternate" numbers were when Bush was in office. Maybe just as a point of reference...


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