U6 Is Now the Last Refuge of Scoundrels

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This is getting ridiculous. On Tuesday Donald Trump repeated his fatuous nonsense about the real unemployment rate being 42 percent. Then Neil Irwin of the New York Times inexplicably decided to opine that “he’s not entirely wrong” because there are lots of different unemployment rates. Et tu, Neil? Bill O’Reilly picked up on this theme today, with guest Lou Dobbs casually declaring that unemployment is “actually” 10 percent. Finally, in the ultimate indignity, Bernie Sanders decided to take this idiocy bipartisan: “Who denies that real unemployment today, including those who have given up looking for work and are working part-time is close to 10 percent?”

Can we cut the crap? Trump is obviously just making shit up, but the 10 percent number is colorably legitimate. It’s officially called U6, a measure of unemployment plus folks who have been forced to work part time plus workers who are “marginally attached” to the labor force. Right now it stands at 9.9 percent.

But you can’t just toss this out as a slippery way of making the economy seem like it’s in horrible shape. If you’re going to tout U6, you have to compare it to what’s normal for U6. And what’s normal in an expanding economy is about 8.9 percent. This means that even big, bad U6 is within a hair of its full-employment value.

The US economy is not a house afire. That said, unemployment is low. Inflation is low. Wages are finally growing. The economy is expanding. Gasoline is cheap. Interest rates are low and houses are affordable. I’m getting pretty tired of the endlessly deceitful attempts to make it seem as if we’re all but on the edge of economic Armageddon, and the last thing we need is for liberals to sign up for this flimflam too. It’s good politics, I guess, but it’s also a lie.

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