Saturday, February 23, 2008

Figures Don't Lie, But Liars Do Figure

This is an old chestnut, but it is applicable to the Labor Department's reporting of statistics regarding today's employment and unemployment rates.

An article which does a pretty comprehensive job looking at this topic from a big picture sense can be found here. It sheds light on the fact that there are statistical indicators available and published, but which the politicians in power downplay, in hopes that you will trust that they are giving you the complete picture, when, in fact, they hope you will not dig further for the truth. Whenever a politician says, "Trust Me", don't.

As a career consultant who, for the last eighteen years, has provided counseling to hundreds people who have tried to replace jobs they lost, I have first hand experience with the difficulties and roadblocks inherent in these transitions.

There are other realities which government statistics, at least those regularly reported, don't cover.

Many job seekers take a job just to get some kind of income stream going again. It might be, and often is, a job at a much lower level in terms of income, skills and job description. I recall a mutual fund money manager taking a job operating a backhoe because he was running out of savings, and his severance pay was long gone. Such people are included in the employment figures, not in the unemployment figures. They are counted as employed however unsatisfactorily.

There are people who simply drop out of the labor market, out of disillusionment or ability to retire early, sometimes for a time and sometimes for good. Once their unemployment insurance runs out and they don't find a job, and/or they stop looking, they disappear from the measurable statistical pool.

There are those who have to drop out due to health issues. There are those who would like and need to work, even after becoming eligible for Social Security(those drawing Social Security, after turning 65 years of age, can earn as much as they can without sacrificing any of their Social Security payments).

There are all kinds of combinations of these scenarios. I'm personally aware of a man, now 70 years old, who has not been able to find a job for which he is best qualified, but which would require him to be on his feet more than he can manage without pain. He suffered a severe back injury. He is now drawing Social Security, and thus ineligible for Disability Insurance.

At the height of his best earning years, when he was a senior executive, he lost half of his assets in a divorce settlement, and the other half was used to pay for college for his four sons. He burned through his remaining savings from the time his back problems got worse and when he became eligible for early Social Security at age 63. Another roadblock to this man's finding even an entry level, desk job, is his resume. When employers find out that he was a senior executive in earlier years they usually pull back from any interest they might have shown.

This is one story. There are thousands similar to it in consequence, though different in combinations of difficulties.

It's important to understand that politicians in power want to make the numbers look as good as they can. Figures don't lie, but do liars figure? Does the sun first appear in the East.

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