What Media Won’t Tell You About August Unemployment Numbers

If you watched any television newscasts Friday, or read a paper Saturday, you were bombarded with claims of doom and gloom as a result of the August unemployment report showing 4,000 fewer people on American payrolls than in July.

Yet, what media largely ignored were shifting sociological population dynamics indicating this summer's poor jobs gains could be caused by the smallest percentage of teenagers seeking work since such data started being collected in 1948.

In fact, though the "civilian noninstitutional population" of persons sixteen to nineteen-years-old reached 17 million for the first time in history last month, only 5.665 million of these teens were employed, the fewest for any August since 1965 when the population of such young adults was only 13 million.

Isn't this newsworthy? Well, there's much more that was ignored in this report for those actually interested in facts rather than excessively bearish, pessimistic spin.

For instance, the "civilian labor force participation rate" for teenagers dropped to 39.7 percent, the lowest since such data have been collected. What this means is fewer teens as a percentage bothered even looking for work this summer than ever.

And, the actual percentage of this population that ended up being employed in August was also the lowest since such data have been collected, a disgraceful 33.3 percent.

Yes, folks, fully two-thirds of America's work-aged teens took the summer off, apparently more than ever in history.

Isn't this newsworthy?

After all, to put this in perspective, in August 1989, almost 50 percent of teens were employed.

Now, the cynical person might say that this low teen employment is a function of a bad economy and that such potential job seekers sat the summer out because they didn't feel they could find work.

Nonsense. The actual number of teens considered unemployed this August was only 1.086 million, the fewest for any August going back to 1969. Furthermore, the total number of people not in the labor force across the entire population due to discouragement is only 392,000. That's it.

So, though folks on the left and their media minions love to suggest people aren't looking for work because they don't think they can find it, nothing could be further from the truth.

Some more numbers to consider that media won't:

  • Although the civilian noninstitutional population sixteen years of age and older hit an all-time high of 232.2 million in August, the labor force shrank by 340,000. Where do you think most of the shrinkage came from? That's right - teenagers.
  • In July, the labor force aged sixteen to nineteen was 7 million. This declined to 6.751 million in August, down 251,000. As such, 74 percent of the decline in the labor force in August was amongst teenagers.
  • The remaining 89,000 are comprised of 25,000 which left the labor force due to discouragement, and 64,000 leaving for other reasons that could include such things as retirement, the desire to stay home with children, etc.

As such, the real issue here that was almost universally ignored was a continuous reduction in teenagers seeking summer jobs, and not an economy that's stopped producing opportunities for those who want work.

Now, that's not to say that the current problems in the credit and housing markets aren't having a deleterious impact on the economy, and mightn't cause a recession in the near or distant future.

Instead, given the specificity and detailed nature of employment data collected and disseminated by the Labor Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it does seem that media could do a significantly better job of dissecting and reporting changes in American work habits that could be much more responsible for such data than anything companies or governments are doing.

More to the point, such changes might be societal and sociological rather than economic. Shouldn't media explore that? Or is that too much to ask?

This is especially important as the baby boomers begin to retire. After all, this mass exodus from the labor force that certainly will start occurring in the next few years will also reduce employment. Will media blame that on companies and governments, too, or accurately report the changes in labor demographics?

I know. It'll depend on which Party controls the White House, won't it?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.