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The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien countered Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's "conspiracy theory" that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has "massaged" the unemployment statistics, explaining that there is "zero evidence [the BLS] has changed the numbers" and that “anyone who suggests otherwise is either uninformed, or trying to uninform others.”
Right-wing media boasts a long history of pushing the claim that the BLS artificially manipulates employment statistics in a partisan effort to portray the Obama administration as having a positive impact on the economy. Most recently, these efforts have been spearheaded by Trump, who, with the help of his family, has attempted to downplay economic progress and hype the debunked claim that 42 percent of Americans are unemployed.
The Post explained that, while Trump hasn’t revealed the source of his unemployment statistic, “the simplest explanation is that he's just ballparking how many adults don't work” -- a figure that, right now, is 40.4 percent. But that number is problematic because it “counts college students and stay-at-home parents and retirees as being equally ‘unemployed’ as people who are actively looking for work but can't find any.” From the July 26 article (emphasis original):
For a year now, the alleged billionaire has insisted that the "real" unemployment rate is something like 42 percent instead of the 4.9 percent it actually is. He hasn't said how he's gotten this — maybe it's from the same "extremely credible source" who told him President Obama's birth certificate was fake? — but the simplest explanation is that he's just ballparking how many adults don't work. That's 40.4 percent right now. The problem with using that number, though, is that it counts college students and stay-at-home parents and retirees as being equally "unemployed" as people who are actively looking for work but can't find any. So it doesn't tell us too much, at least not on its own, unless you think it's a problem that we have more 70-year-olds than we used to.
Or unless conspiracy theories are one of your favorite accessories, as seems to be the case with the father, and now the son, Donald Trump Jr. On Sunday, he told CNN's Jake Tapper that the official unemployment numbers are "artificial" ones that are "massaged to make the existing economy look good" and "this administration look good." How do they supposedly do this? By, he claimed, defining "the way we actually measure unemployment" to be that "after x number of months, if someone can't find a job, congratulations, they're miraculously off [the jobless rolls]." The only problem with this theory is it's false. The BLS hasn't changed the way it measures unemployment during the Obama years, and there is zero evidence it has changed the numbers themselves. Not only that, but Donald Trump Jr. doesn't even seem to know how unemployment is defined in the first place. As the BLS explains, everyone who doesn't have a job but is trying to find one counts as "unemployed." It doesn't matter how long you've been looking as long as you are in fact still looking.
But that's not to say the unemployment rate tells us everything we need to know about the labor market. It doesn't. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will tell you that herself. There are still a lot of people who want full-time but can only find part-time jobs. Still a lot of people who want to work but weren't able to find anything for so long that they've given up looking for now. And still a lot of people who would want to work again if wages were high enough to make worth their while. But none of this is a secret. The BLS publishes this all, too. So-called broad unemployment includes all these people who technically aren't unemployed but aren't fully employed either. That's 9.6 percent today.