Few ordinary folks grasp what they’re made up of, how those elements interact. Worse, many make unwarranted assumptions about their meaning. Like much that involves “economics” these are not as simple as sports standings with won/lost clearly showing what team — or city/area — is doing well ... or lousy.
For example, happiness was recently expressed that Floyd County’s unemployment rate was down to 7.6 percent in November. Indeed, given it has been as high as 10.3 percent during the recent Great Recession that is positive ... except for those with memories long enough to recall when it was below 5 percent.
Additionally, this seemingly positive trend occurred against a background of Floyd County having 823 fewer persons employed in November than a year earlier and roughly 1,700 fewer “in the work force” ... simply meaning still looking for jobs. Fact: The “jobless rate” drops when more people simply give up. A reduction doesn’t necessarily mean those folks have left for greener pastures, nor do U.S. Census updates for Floyd County reflect anything more than a population growth stagnation ... not a loss.
And the local work force — when meaning jobs actually held — is actually down almost 5,000 from its happy-days high.
FLOYD COUNTY, which is part of the 15-county northwest Georgia area for such statistics, apparently helped the entire region “improve” by having those 823 persons depart the job market among the 2,802 that so disappeared in the 15 counties.
This is an odd way of looking at “improvement,” perhaps unique to bureaucrats and bean-counters. It does not mean those neighbors found jobs, here or anywhere, although the private sector has been pretty good of late in adding back positions ... even as the public sector continues to slice its workforce. However, given the way governments tally these numbers, only those actively looking for work get counted.
This segment is also about to get bigger. As 2013 ended, so did extended federal unemployment benefits. Georgia only offers 18 weeks of unemployment assistance now — it used to be 26 weeks like most other states but Georgia decided it couldn’t afford to keep helping this much, given its own problems. Hey, forget all those other statistical reports about the state raking in tax revenues at pre-recession levels.
THE FEDERAL emergency program, now ended instantly for all in the budget-deal compromise, added 47 weeks of assistance with an average monthly stipend of $1,166. It was costing about $19 billion a year nationwide.
As of the last count in December, about 363,055 Georgians were/are seeking jobs. Contrary to the impressions some appear to have, these are not lopsidedly made up of “lazy” or low-skill neighbors. As “human-interest” stories appeared in the media on this federal benefit cutoff, it was made clear many are let-go middle managers or highly educated “experts” in some reduced area of activity ... and many are the main support for children as well.
As of Dec. 21 about 39,279 Georgians were receiving, and have now lost, the federal assistance. Just based on averages — Greater Rome has roughly 1 percent of the state population — that means about 390 hometown neighbors just lost their final tide-over incomes. They are on their own, except for other “safety net” government assistance like food stamps and Medicaid plus whatever family and friends can do for them because — fortunately — they are living in an area with strong family/clan roots where even cousins still are inclined to help cousins ... and many charitable organizations exist.
That number is the equivalent of Greater Rome “losing” yet another industry/company of significant size. On the national level, it is estimated that the overall economy will lose billions in spending.
ALL THIS simply is intended to point out that fewer folks looking for work is not necessarily good news, nor does it mean most have found jobs and rejoined the ranks of taxpayers.
It is also important to recognize that what the public sees in government number-crunching, or even what their elected officials are doing, is not necessarily the upswing they may think they are getting.
Much of the attention paid to this routine updating of numbers, done without much explanation or analysis by government, leaves citizens on their own to fathom meaning. Nonetheless, there is a bottom line.
What is really important about this confusing swirl of numbers is not to let them muddy the waters in our own heads.
Those are not really numbers. They are people and, in these parts, that can mean family members, does mean neighbors and absolutely means members of a community that shares the same hopes, dreams, goals and problems as the rest of us do.
THEY DON’T need to be counted as much as their plight needs to be understood and assistance rendered when and where possible.