To start with, they mean that in July, there were 155,013,000 workers in the civilian work force. In August, that number dropped to 154,645,000. Simple math tells you that 368,000 people gave up looking for a job, and dropped out of the labor pool. The US Department of Labor reported that former and potential workers “not in the civilian labor force” hit a record high of 88,921,000. When workers have dropped out of the labor pool entirely, for whatever reasons, they are no longer counted as “unemployed.” Since that number of dropouts increased by 368,000 in August, the official unemployment rate dropped from July's 8.3% to August's 8.1%.
The chronically unemployed or unemployable become non-persons for purposes of calculating the unemployment rate. In other words, unemployment is far, far worse than the 8.1% figure. A more realistic figure is 23,000,000 Americans unemployed, underemployed, or unemployed but still looking for work. Technical percentages be damned, that's a whole lot of Americans. Mitt Romney has described that number as a national tragedy.
The Obama administration constantly trumpets that it has created [fill in the number] million jobs. That's a plain and simple lie. But even if their highest number of jobs created were true, it still falls far behind the number that needs to be created just to stay even. The Labor Department counts workers as “in the civilian work force” if they are at least sixteen years of age, not in the military or an institution (prisons, nursing homes, mental hospitals), and either have a job or have actively looked for one in the last four weeks.
In reality, most of the still-counted unemployed have been actively looking for work for eighteen to twenty-four months. So let's look at the “labor pool” of people actually working (the Labor Participation Index). It's another disaster. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 142,220,000 Americans working in July. But in August that number slipped to 142,101,000 working, a net loss of 119,000. Still, after removing the dropouts from the hard numbers, that keeps the phony unemployment rate at 8.1%.
No matter how the administration tries to convince the voters that things are looking up, there is simply nothing of any significance to indicate that. A big uptick in the Dow-Jones or the NASDAQ is wonderful, but unless it translates into jobs, and soon, it only has significance for investors. The jobless remain jobless, and the numbers simply aren't getting any better by any measure. Economists' definitions of a recession mean nothing to people struggling to make ends meet and to find employment to replace their lost jobs.
The total number of jobs which the Obama administration claims is indeed up from the nadir year of 2009. But that's not an “increase” in jobs in any meaningful way. Many of the jobs are much lower-paying than the ones lost, many are part-time or at least less than full-time, and the number added since 2009 doesn't even come close to matching population increases or the number of young people ready to enter the labor pool. The number of jobs increased by 96,000 during the July-August period, but that is nothing short of pathetic. It needs to be three to five times that many just to get back to pre-2008 levels. Worst of all, despite Obama's promises, jobs in the manufacturing sector actually dropped in August.
So to repeat my original point, the Republicans must continue to hammer at the official unemployment rate, but also make those figures “real” to the voters. 23,000,000 unemployed is a number people understand. 8%+ official unemployment has been around so long that it has ceased to have much impact on voter thinking. Voters don't look at statistics and percentages, they look at their unemployed friends, family and neighbors, and often, themselves. Obama has done nothing to fix that. Mitt Romney must make it clear that he and Paul Ryan will move those numbers in the right direction. Not percentages, but real, live, breathing human beings, at work, earning a decent living.