By Bill Davis

June 29, 2010

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series about economic myths. Parts 2 and 3 will follow, hopefully this week 🙂

Economic Myth 1: Unemployment is below 10%

From Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

What nonsense that is. The official jobless rate, at 9.7%, is a fiction and should be treated as such. It doesn't even count lots of unemployed people. The so-called “underemployment” or U-6 rate is an improvement: For example it counts discouraged job seekers, and those forced to work part-time because they can't get a full-time job.

That rate right now is 16.6%, just below its recent high and twice the level it was a few years ago.

And even that may not tell the full story. Many people have simply dropped out of the labor force statistics.

Consider, for example, the situation among men of prime working age. An analysis of data at the U.S. Labor Department shows that there are 79 million men in America between the ages of 25 and 65. And nearly 18 million of them, or 22%, are out of work completely. (The rate in the 1950s was less than 10%.) And that doesn't even count those who are working part-time because they can't get full-time work. Add those to the mix and about one in four men of prime working age lacks a full-time job.

Dean Baker, economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., says the numbers may be even worse than that. His research suggests a growing number of men, especially in deprived, urban and minority neighborhoods, have vanished from the statistical rolls altogether.

The verbiage above tells the right story. The official unemployment rate has always been a poor gauge of the employment picture. Only now, it's worse. I'll try to find data to back it up, but my gut tells me there are a lot of people underemployed (not working full time but who need or want to).

By “underemployed,” I also mean that people aren't getting paid what they need to survive. Perhaps you lost your cushy 9 to 5 six-figure banking job and now you're working as a retail store manager (big pay cut there). You're working longer and harder but getting paid significantly less than you had been.

That's underemployed. Yes, you have a job and good for you! But you've certainly had to make some lifestyle changes, wouldn't you say?

A lot of personal finance bloggers would tell you that you should always live the frugal life; that's a great opinion to have and if you walk your talk, you're good to go. However, many people cannot live the way you do.

They are married and are the sole providers of their families. Or they have kids or parents to care for. Obligations that they may have acquired at a younger, less financially-aware age.

No matter. For the average man or woman on the street, having a job that fits their basic lifestyle needs is hard to come by right now. And I don't really see any relief on the horizon.

I will say, though, that lots of times the turn in the business cycle is unseen until it happens right in front of your eyes. That is to say, often times nobody sees it coming. Leading indicators are only so good. As they say, “hindsight is 20-10.”

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Next up: Deficits are bad

unemployment, economy, economic myths, three economic myths

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