Memo to Mitch McConnell: Unemployed Not Just Chilling

Library of Congress/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/2890977024/">Flickr</a>

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Scott Winship pisses me off today:

Quick — what was the risk in 2008 that an American worker would experience at least one bout of unemployment? Chances are you thought that that risk was higher than one in eight. But figures from government surveys indeed suggest that thirteen out of fifteen workers (or would-be workers) had not a single day unemployed during the first year of the “Great Recession”….The 2009 data won’t be out until later in the year, but if last year ends up comparable to the depths of the early 1980s recession, then the average worker will “only” have had a seven in nine chance of avoiding unemployment.

Quick — which is bigger? One in eight? Or thirteen out of fifteen? Or maybe seven in nine?

Stop it! Just stop. This is not a more user friendly way of presenting data. This is:

Quick — what was the risk in 2008 that an American worker would experience at least one bout of unemployment? Chances are you thought that that risk was higher than 13%. But figures from government surveys indeed suggest that 87% of workers (or would-be workers) had not a single day unemployed during the first year of the “Great Recession”….The 2009 data won’t be out until later in the year, but if last year ends up comparable to the depths of the early 1980s recession, then the average worker will “only” have had a 78% chance of avoiding unemployment.

Yeah, everyone hates percentages. But at least this allows the reader to quickly compare the magnitudes in question. The “blank in blank” formulation merely adds an extra level of confusion.

OK. I’m glad I got that off my chest. And now, for the actual substance of Winship’s post, it’s this: unemployment is really bad right now. Really, really bad. His chart is on the left: it shows that there are about five people unemployed for every job opening. A different chart is on the right. It shows there are about five people unemployed for every job opening. In words that even Mitch McConnell can understand, the unemployed aren’t slacking off because they enjoy the vacation. They’re out of work because there aren’t any jobs. And no, it’s not because American CEOs are consumed with worry about the effects of healthcare reform in 2014. It’s because there isn’t enough demand for their products, so they aren’t expanding and they aren’t hiring people. Some actual action on this front would be great.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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