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David Sirota

David Sirota

Posted January 10, 2009 | 03:39 PM (EST)

Bush's Last Month Sees Unemployment Hit 22%, According to Wingnuttia's Math


Per the discussion of the right-wing's new efforts to slander Franklin Roosevelt, note that though the Bureau of Labor Statistics today reports that the unemployment rate in President Bush's last month is 7.2 percent, if you use the same kind of absurd math conservatives use to berate the New Deal, then the unemployment today is actually around 22 percent.

As University of California historian Eric Rauchway has noted, Wingnuttia's leading FDR slanderers like Amity Shlaes and Thomas Sowell base their claims that unemployment during the New Deal didn't go below 20 percent by counting government workers as unemployed. And those claims are being echoed by right-wing rags like the National Review and fringe think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. I want to repeat that: conservatives base their claims that unemployment didn't drop below 20 percent during the pre-WWII New Deal not on the official government data showing otherwise, but by counting government workers in programs like the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps as unemployed.

So, in the interest of comparing apples to apples, it's important to remember that using the same ridiculous method of counting, the unemployment rate today is 22 percent. Officially, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the total workforce is 155.4 million workers, and says 11.1 million workers in that workforce are unemployed - a 7.2 percent unemployment rate. But when you add the 22.5 million workers who BLS says work for the government to the 11.1 million officially unemployed workers, that unemployment rate is roughly 22 percent. Because, ya know, conservatives insist with a straight face that people who work for the government - people who build bridges, roads, airports, etc. - are actually welfare cases who shouldn't be counted as employed.

So, just to sum up, based on conservatives' arguments, unemployment rates right now are in the neighborhood of unemployment levels not seen since the height of the Great Depression.

Now, I certainly believe unemployment today is way too high. I agree with those experts who say that the official unemployment rate undercounts the number of people actually unemployed (it does this by not counting people who have given up looking for work - ie. the long-term unemployed - as unemployed) - and I also believe that if we don't pass at least a New Deal-sized economic rescue package, we could see unemployment levels sharply increase from their already high levels today.

But clearly, the unemployment rate today is not at the same levels it was during the height of the Great Depression - and clearly, conservatives aren't willing to apply the same methods of counting jobs during the Great Depression today - because doing that would show how fast and loose they are with the facts.

That conservative Wingnuttia continues to employ the fuzziest of fuzzy math - and in the process, insult government workers - shows that their zeal to slander FDR and try to stop a new New Deal knows absolutely no bounds. I'm not surprised by that, of course - but it's important that we throw their math right back at them so that everyone can see how dishonest the right really is.

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