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Job seekers stand line during the Career Expo job fair Wednesday, March 7, 2012, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Job seekers stand line during the Career Expo job fair Wednesday, March 7, 2012, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  

Hidden unemployment numbers stymie Obama’s job growth claims

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

There’s so much hidden unemployment in the labor force that even Friday’s improved jobs numbers failed to decrease the official unemployment rate of 8.3 percent…

In February, the private sector added 233,000 new jobs, but 476,000 non-working people began looking for a job. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rules, only by seeking work did those individuals officially become unemployed.

That’s because BLS does not count workers as unemployed unless they have actively searched for work in the last four weeks. As a result, millions of non-working people are not counted as unemployed by BLS officials.

The statistical quirk is the flip side of the administration’s effort to minimize the high level of unemployment for the last three years, and it may hinder progressives’ efforts to claim victory on the jobs front in November.

If more non-working people begin searching for jobs, “the economy is going to have to create an average of 246,000 jobs between now and November, just to keep the unemployment rate at eight percent, and so we are not even at that pace yet,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, an economist and the president of the American Action Forum.

If the BLS rules weren’t in place, the current unemployment rate would be somewhere around 11 percent, analysts say. The unemployment number would be as high as 15 percent if part-time workers seeking full-time employment were recognized in the unemployment rolls.

This quirk today helped Republicans discredit claims by liberals in the White House and the media that President Barack Obama’s policies are reviving the economy.

“I don’t think anyone should be happy with 8.3 percent, and I don’t think anyone should play this as a victory,” said Holtz-Eakin.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest emphasized the numerical accumulation of new hires and downplayed the unemployment rate.

“Today’s jobs numbers are a continuation of a trend that is encouraging. … Over the last six months, we’ve seen 1.3 million private-sector jobs created,” he said.

”We’re digging out of a very deep hole. … There’s a lot more work that remains to be done,” he said, without mentioning the unemployment rate.

Earnest also tried to downplay the entire subject of jobs and unemployment.

“As you know, we don’t get too excited about one month’s jobs numbers beating expectations, and we don’t get too disappointed if there’s one month of jobs numbers that fails to meet expectations,” he said.

“The president and his team are trying to set low expectations so they can clear the hurdle” in November, Holtz-Eakin said. “I don’t think the people [share those] lower expectations.”

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann pushed the same theme.

“Today’s jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may elicit elation from President Obama, but for the millions of Americans who remain unemployed and the millions more who have given up looking for work or are underemployed, today’s unemployment rate of 8.3 percent is another reminder that this President still doesn’t understand that government doesn’t create jobs,” she said in a statement Friday.

But the White House’s spin is already shaping the coverage by the media. For example, the New York Times’ top-of-the-page headline declared, “U.S. extends its run of solid job growth another month.”

For some people, “it appears that we are looking at a world where expectations are so low that 8.3 percent unemployment is okay,” Holtz-Eakin told The Daily Caller.

“It shouldn’t be [because] there are millions of Americans out there who would like to get jobs and have those jobs cover their monthly bills, and that’s the agenda that should be the focus of his attention,” he said.