Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

January 29, 2016 12:00 PM

State of the Nation

63% of respondents say that the country is on the wrong track. 29% say the country is headed in the right direction. A 63% finding is the average wrong track finding for all of 2015. [NBC/WSJ 1/13/16]

The recent CBS/NYT survey is slightly more negative, with 67% saying the country is on the wrong track. A combination of surveys taken by CBS/NYT and others taken by CBS alone, results in an average of 62.3%. [CBS/NYT 1/10/16]

35% believe that the direction of the country will improve five years from now. 22% believe the direction of the country will decline. [NBC/WSJ 1/13/16]

Don’t be fooled by the BLS “headline” unemployment rate

The current ,widely publicized BLS unemployment rate of 5% does not represent reality. In any given month it is from 75-100% off.

When I have asked various media folks why they continue to use this number in their reporting rather than the real number, the only answer I get is that it allows comparisons to the past. The fact is that it is just as easy to compare the real unemployment rate to the past as it is to compare the rate that draws current attention.

There has been clear, substantial improvement in the amount of real unemployment over the last five to six years. However, for working people, the situation is not nearly as good as the official, widely reported number suggests.

First, let’s take a look at the “official” numbers.

The official BLS seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December 2015 is 5%, the same as November.

In October 2009, the official unemployment rate was twice as high at 10%. In December of 2009, the unemployment rate was at 9.9%. In November 2010, the rate was still at 9.9%.

However, if one takes into account the total unemployed + those marginally attached to the labor force + those working part-time who want full-time work, the current rate is 9.9%.

In October 2009 this more inclusive standard was 17.1%. In December 2009 the rate remained at 17.1%. In November 2010 this figure was 16.9%.

Here is what is wrong with the so-called “headline” rate of 5%. Included in that rate are people who do not have a job, are available for a job, and have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks.

The broadest definition of unemployment includes everyone covered in the “headline” rate plus discouraged workers, marginally attached workers, and those who work part-time but would like to work full-time. [Marginally attached workers are those who “currently are neither working nor looking for work, but indicate that they want and are available for a job, and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months.”] At this time including these folks in the broader definition of unemployed increases the “headline” rate nearly 100% to 9.9%.

All of the data above is found in the same charts published monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [Thanks to David Brown for the term “headline” rate.]

In the last week of November, Gallup found an unadjusted unemployment rate of 5.6%. It also found an under-employment rate (unemployed +those working part-time but wanting full time) of 14.0%. [This is based on those 18 years of age and older. BLS data is based on those 16 years of age and older.]

49% of respondents believe that the national economy is “good,” with 5% saying it is “very good.” Another 49% believe the economy is “bad,” with 18% saying it is “very bad.” [NYT/CBS 1/10/16]

57% believe that 2016 will not be “a time of economic expansion for you and your family nor an opportunity to get ahead.” [NBC/WSJ 1/13/16]

57% believe that the laws covering the sale of guns should be made more strict. Only 10% believe that the laws should be less strict. 88% support requiring a background check on all potential gun buyers. However, only 26% believe that stricter gun laws would do much to prevent gun violence. [NYT/CBS 1/10/16]

53% of Americans believe that persons who are not legal immigrants in the United States should be allowed to apply for citizenship. An additional 13% say these immigrants should be allowed to stay, but not be allowed to apply for citizenship. [CBS/NYT 1/10/16]

81% believe that “news has become like entertainment and too influenced by special interests.” 83% of Republicans, 84% of Independent, and 77% of Democrats share this view. 16% still believe that “news is generally fact-based and credible.” [Winston Group 12/30/15]

Last year was the hottest year recorded, temperature-wise, compared to data which exists from 1880. Last year was 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than 2014, which was the previous record year. This was a particularly large increase. December of last year was also the hottest on record. [NASA and NOAA)

47% of Americans say that the Republican Party is friendly toward religion. Only 29% believe that the Democrat Party is friendly to religion. 30% of Republicans are neutral to religion. 39% of Democrats neutral toward religion. 15% of Republicans and 25% of Democrats are unfriendly to religion. [Washington Post from PEW Research Center, 12/23/15]

Both parties have lost confidence and trust in the public’s political wisdom. In 2007, 61% of Republicans and those who leaned Republican had confidence in the political wisdom of the American people. Today, that number is 36%. During the same period 67% of Democrats and those who lean Democrat were confident about the political wisdom of the American people; today 37% have that confidence.

55% of respondents say that “ordinary Americans” would do a better job solving the Nation’s problems than elected officials. 39% have the counter view. [Pew 12/11/15]

In the current atmosphere there are few things on which Republicans and Democrats agree. But one thing on which they do agree is a shared concern about “money’s influence on politics.”

76% of Republicans/lean Rep and 76% of Democrats/lean Dem, believe that “money has greater influence on politics today than before.”

62% of Republicans/lean Rep and 68% of Democrats/lean Dem believe that the “high cost of presidential campaigns discourages good candidates.” [Pew Research 12/7/15]

Much is being made of the schism in the Republican Party between the so- called establishment and the new conservative activists who resent the “insiders” who populate the leadership class represented by Washington.

Some believe that this situation creates an opportunity for the Democratic Party.

In fact, the Democratic Party is involved in the same conflict as the Republicans, except the challenge is coming from the left.

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