Biden Administration Cherry Picks Data to Dodge Troubling Economic Numbers

COMMENTARY Markets and Finance

Biden Administration Cherry Picks Data to Dodge Troubling Economic Numbers

Aug 11, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
EJ Antoni

Research Fellow, Regional Economics

EJ is a research fellow for Regional Economics in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
President Joe Biden speaks on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. Tom Williams / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

With all the Orwellian doublespeak emanating from Washington these days, it is important to take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt.

This even goes for talking points that are supposedly quoting official data, like the last monthly employment report from the Labor Department.

While the Biden administration may say otherwise, the current state of the labor market does not contradict the fact that the nation is in recession.

With all the Orwellian doublespeak emanating from Washington these days, it is important to take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt.

This even goes for talking points that are supposedly quoting official data, like the last monthly employment report from the Labor Department. While the Biden administration was quick to highlight part of that report, they’ve conveniently swept its politically inconvenient data points under the rug.

In short, the labor market is not nearly as healthy or robust as it first appears. The Labor Department’s July report showed over half a million jobs being added that month according to the establishment survey, one of the two surveys that make up the complete report.

Ordinarily, that would be a great number and a great sign that more Americans are working and earning a living. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Those details start in the second survey that composes the jobs report: the household survey, which polls individual workers and not business owners. This survey provides information like the unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate, the latter of which estimates how many people are working and looking for work.

Under Biden, the percentage of people participating in the labor market has stayed stubbornly low, and it is affecting the unemployment rate. When fewer people are working or looking for work, the same number of jobs will yield a lower unemployment rate.

This phenomenon is exactly what has been happening for months in America: people have left the workforce, artificially driving down the unemployment rate. While the Biden administration is correct that the unemployment rate is near historic lows, it is not just because employment is increasing.

In fact, the household survey also has its own measure for the total number of jobs in the country, with that figure peaking in March and trending down since then. It also has never recovered to its pre-pandemic level.

Similarly, the number of people employed full time also peaked in March and has been trending down as well. There are 141,000 fewer full-time jobs today than there were in March. All the while, almost 100,000 more people got a second job in July in order to try and make ends meet in an environment of skyrocketing prices from out-of-control inflation. At the same time, almost 300,000 self-employed people lost their jobs, likely going to work for someone else.

These are important data points because of how the different surveys count the number of jobs in the country. For instance, the establishment survey does not count employees at agricultural businesses or the self-employed but it double counts people who work multiple jobs.

The result is that the establishment survey is very likely grossly overestimating the number of full-time jobs that were added to the economy in July. The actual number was likely between 150,000 and 200,000.

It is also important to note that all full-time jobs are not equal. When Biden first took office, the average workweek was 35 hours, but it has now fallen to 34.6 hours. That may not sound like a significant difference, but with over 300 million people employed, that many lost man-hours is the equivalent to losing one and a half million jobs. Once again, this serves to overestimate the number of jobs in the economy relative to the pre-pandemic norm.

Full-time jobs today are also not equal to past jobs in terms of real pay. Under Biden, prices have risen so much faster than wages that real earnings have fallen 5.4%. While the economy is slowly getting jobs back, those jobs are simply not as good as the ones people lost two years ago.

While the Biden administration may say otherwise, the current state of the labor market does not contradict the fact that the nation is in recession.

In terms of gauging the strength of the economy, employment is a lagging indicator, meaning it tends to change after the economy as a whole has already begun to change. Therefore, it is not surprising that other indicators like gross domestic product have turned negative before the number of jobs in the establishment survey does.

But there are other warning signs indicating that the labor market is in fact signaling an economic downturn. The number of unfilled jobs is declining as businesses can afford fewer employees and the Help-Wanted-OnLine index from the Conference Board is trending down, a precursor to both job losses and recession. 

Consumers are also running out of savings and going into debt in the face of ever-escalating prices. That is decreasing sales for businesses that will then need fewer employees. Many businesses have already begun layoffs or at least stopped hiring and that will continue in the months to come. But you would never know that if you only listened to the Biden administration’s mouthpieces.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal