Memo to Mitch McConnell: Unemployed Not Just Chilling

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

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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