That Ain’t Workin’

Entropy requires that things around my house must go wrong on occasion just to assert itself as an inviolate principle.  When something does go amiss my Lady Gaga often points if out to me despite the fact that even someone who is blind would probably be aware of the problem.  She might say, for instance, “The sliding screen door has been stuck for days.  Will you please fix it?”  I get the feeling she’s wondering if I’m blind not to have already noticed and fixed the problem but work of such a technical nature generally requires some conceptual time.

The point is that work as a concept can prove elusive.  When our Labor Department (DoL) talks about it, they generally refer to the people who aren’t doing it, the unemployed.  Recently they said the January unemployment rate was 8.3%, and being a government institution they then proceeded to explain why in such a way that no one could understand.  For instance, they said there were 12.8 million souls unemployed in January, of which 42.9% were “long-term unemployed” which means they haven’t had a job for at least six months.  But wait; there’s more.  Some 8.2 million additional folks were excluded from this total since they couldn’t find full-time work or had seen their hours cut, but they still were holding down a job somewhere.  They are said to be “part-time workers for economic reasons.”  Additionally, 1.1 million people had stopped looking for work because they didn’t think they could find a job.  They aren’t unemployed; they’re “discouraged.”  Another 1.7 million hadn’t looked for a job within the last four weeks due to personal reasons although they were willing, just like the discouraged, to take one if it came along.  Both sets had looked for work sometime in the past year, just not in the last four weeks, which means they don’t get included in the 8.3% unemployment total.  Take these last two groups, called the “marginally attached,” add in the part-time workers for economic reasons sub-set, and you arrive at a new category called “under-employed.” Our under-employment rate currently sits at 15.1%. 

This boulibase of data make for an unpalatable soup.  It has become too complex even while missing other people like those who retire early for lack of opportunity or choose to return to a domestic role as opposed to one in the outside work force.  It’s for this reason that some economists are turning to a different measuring stick, the employment-population ratio, currently at 58.8%, or the civilian labor force participation rate, at 63.7% by last count.  This last group apparently consists of anyone 16 years-old or over who’s not in the military, jail or an asylum, but also not among the marginally attached as defined above.

When I finally get around to fixing the screen or changing a light bulb, my wife wonders aloud, “See how easy that was?  Why didn’t you just handle it two weeks ago?”  That shows me she has no appreciation for the nuances of proper planning.  I put a lot of thought into any such project before implementation.  That’s why it looks so easy once I spring into action.  The point I’m trying to make is that ultimately things do usually get fixed.  I question, however, if all the planning emanating from the current Congress will get our economy repaired as easily.