Paul Greenberg: Fun with numbers

BY PAUL GREENBERG Published: September 15, 2012

How to make a silk purse: First you hand Barack Obama a sow's ear. He'll explain it may look pretty bad, but it's really pretty good. Like the latest jobs report, which only an incumbent president could profess to love. Here's how this president presents it: “Today we learned that after losing around 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, business once again added jobs for the 30th month in a row, a total of 4.6 million jobs.”

Maybe we were all supposed to cheer and applaud at that point, as if we were at the Democrats' national convention and believed every word of it. And — above all — not look too closely at the numbers being thrown around.

The actual number of new jobs added to this still sputtering economy last month was only 96,000 compared to the 125,000 that ever-hopeful analysts had predicted, and well below the still minimal 139,000 a month the nation's economy had been adding so far this year. At this rate, the great recovery sounds more like a lingering recession.

But to hear Barack Obama tell it, Happy Days Are Here Again! It just doesn't feel like it for some reason. Mainly because they aren't.

But never mind that. If we'll all just be patient and keep swallowing Dr. Obama's patent medicine, all will soon be well. To borrow a line from Herbert Hoover, prosperity is just around the corner.

When a president running for re-election cites statistics, it's important that he pick just the right ones and, just as important, leave out any embarrassing others. Even better, change the subject. Which you can bet the president will try next.

Back in 2009, this same president and his hotshot team of economic advisers assured us they would hold the unemployment rate below 8 percent — even have it down to 5.4 percent by now.

If his administration's assurances had panned out, as the president's opponent this election year was quick to note, there would be 9 million more Americans with jobs now.

Instead, the country has more than 12 million unemployed, and at least as many who are underemployed, which is the term for those who'd like a full-time job, but who can find only part-time work in this anemic economy. If you include the underemployed and those who've given up looking for work, the real unemployment rate now stands at 14.7 percent.

This latest jobs report also revealed that hourly pay fell, and that manufacturers cut the most jobs in two years. Tuesday's report from the Labor Department was bad news, too. Job openings in July, the latest monthly totals available, were down from June, and June's had to be revised downward.

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