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LAMBRO: Obama’s statistical slump

Unemployment decline can’t hide numbers that portend voter payback

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Mark Twain, who took a dim view of elected officials, once said that in the world of politics and government there were lies, damned lies and statistics. That scathing remark certainly applies to the Obama administration's response to last week's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, which said the nationwide unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent in November. The White House joyfully lept on the news, saying it showed the economy was "moving in the right direction."

The headlines that followed Friday's report said that the number of unemployed Americans had fallen. But the fine print beneath that statistic revealed that the decline was explained largely by the 315,000 discouraged job seekers who stopped looking for work last month and thus were no longer counted among the unemployed.

When you deduct those frustrated, long-term jobless Americans from the labor-pool equation, guess what? The unemployment rate falls. This isn't something to take credit for or to cheer about. It's another painful manifestation of President Obama's spectacular failure to get the economy growing again and producing jobs for anyone who wants one.

Less than a year before the 2012 presidential election, the future of the economic landscape looks as bleak as ever. The economy created 120,000 jobs in November, barely enough to keep pace with population growth. But that isn't near the number required to cut unemployment down to normal levels. We need to produce more than 13 million jobs over the next three years just to lower the unemployment rate to 6 percent.

"Considering continuing layoffs at state and local governments and federal spending cuts, private-sector jobs must increase at least 400,000 a month to accomplish that goal," says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

Few if any reputable economists see that happening in the next few years under this administration's policies.

So, while 8.6 percent unemployment sounds better than the 9 percent range where we've been stuck for a long time, it isn't much of an improvement because that statistic hides so many other components of the real jobless rate.

At best, one could say it has pushed the rate back to where it was "during the depths of the recession," as the Associated Press put it. That isn't saying much.

For a fuller and truer picture of the nation's employment crisis, look to the Gallup Poll, which regularly measures the depths of underemployment across the country.

"Underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed with the percentage working part-time but wanting full-time work, is 18.1 percent in November," Gallup reported last week.

"That is up from 17.8 percent a month ago and 17.2 percent a year ago. Many employers appear to have chosen to hire part-time rather than full-time for this holiday season," Gallup said.

Notably, the economy's two major employment workhorses continued to show significant weaknesses.

Manufacturing employment has "remained essentially unchanged since July," the BLS said, and the construction industry "showed little movement." So much for all those "shovel-ready jobs" Mr. Obama's $825 billion stimulus plan was supposed to create.

Dig even deeper into the economic statistics, and you will find more symptoms of the Obama economy's mediocre performance. The Commerce Department announced last month that the economy was creeping along at a snail's-pace of 2 percent - not enough to boost job levels in 2012 and beyond.

Pay scales also are stagnant under this administration, with average hourly earnings rising a pathetic 0.1 percent last month, the BLS said.

As Mr. Obama moves into full campaign mode in an effort to re-energize dispirited Democrats, he's going to have a hard time convincing minority voters who form the base of his party that things are moving in the right direction.

Unemployment among black voters is at 15.5 percent, and among Hispanics it's 11.4 percent. There was "little or no change" in the unemployment rate in either group.

It is said by presidential and political historians that no president since the New Deal has won re-election with the unemployment rate above 8 percent. Unless the number of jobs mushrooms next year, the unemployment rate is likely to remain between 8.5 percent and 9 percent throughout 2012 and possibly climb higher if the legions of discouraged workers decide to begin actively looking for jobs again.

If you regularly tune in to the nightly news shows, the statistic you rarely hear is Mr. Obama's failing job-approval score.

Just for the record, Mr. Obama's 43 percent average job-approval rating last month "ranks as one of the lowest for an elected president in November of his third year in office," according to the Gallup Poll.

"Only Jimmy Carter had a lower rating, at 40 percent. But Carter's rating surged in late November 1979 because of a rally in support after the onset of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and he averaged above 50 percent in December," Gallup said.

"All recently elected presidents were at or above 50 percent in December of their third year in office," the polling service noted ominously. If he does not pull out of that 43 percent rut, "he will be the first elected president in Gallup records to be below 50 percent in December in his third year in office."

Mark Twain's statistics are piling up fast, the voters are becoming increasingly angry, and Mr. Obama is running out of excuses.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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