The Obama administration is touting the latest unemployment numbers released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor as proof its policies are working. But a closer look at the actual number of able-bodied people who are willing to work, but are not, reveals a different picture.
As economist John R. Lott has written, not only is the drop in the unemployment rate from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent still half a percentage point higher than when President Barack Obama took office three years ago, the number of unemployed is higher. Compared to January 2009, when 11.6 million Americans were jobless, today, writes Mr. Lott, "there are 12.8 million unemployed, and 43 percent have been out of a job for more than six months. The average length of unemployment has increased dramatically since the recovery started. Back in June 2009, 'only' 29 percent of the unemployed had been unemployed longer than six months."
The way government counts things, slowing the rate of increased spending amounts to a cut and reducing the percentage of unemployed people by two-tenths of 1 percent counts as more people finding jobs, which then counts as progress.
Mr. Lott examined the Labor Department's statistics and found nearly 1.2 million Americans no longer in the labor force. That means most have given up looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed. That fact skews the statistics to make the employment picture appear better than it is.
Real unemployment is mostly ignored by the major media, which were happy to tout the latest jobless rate reduction as a boon to President Obama and a problem for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. Most reporting has focused on the impression voters might have of an economic recovery, or at least trending in the right direction. The opposite is true, and it is up to Mr. Romney to make that case.
After an initial tepid reaction to the unemployment numbers, Mr. Romney rebounded, but it came a day late after the news cycle had moved on and the media cheerleading for President Obama had achieved the desired effect.
Many in the major media can't be counted on to tell the truth about the economy if doing so makes Mr. Obama and his policies look bad. Consider how some in the media collectively claimed the recession had not eased as the 1992 election neared. After the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, it was reported that, in fact, the recession had ended more than a year earlier. Through the election, the media completely accepted the Democratic line the recession had not abated.
This means the Republican nominee will have to go over or around the media to make his case. The best way to do this is not with statistics but with real people. The Republican candidates for president should identify unemployed people who have lost their jobs or who have given up looking for one. Have them tell their stories and let the candidates put the blame on the president and congressional Democrats whose plans to raise taxes, drastically increase spending and impose Obamacare on the country have added to the economic uncertainty and the reluctance of businesses to hire new workers.
Featuring real people who are out of a job and desperately want to work would help undermine the Democrats as the party of compassion, while simultaneously blunting the Republican stereotype as the party that doesn't care about the poor.
Democrats seem more eager to get more people onto food stamps than to adopt policies that would free them from addiction to government and give them the dignity of a real job and the self-sufficiency that goes with it.
Mr. Romney must be less reactive and more proactive, less responsive to Mr. Obama and the news of the day and more concerned with creating his own news every day. Going on the offensive about unemployment is a strategy that can work.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.