I accidentally read the new figures on unemployment claims today. I turned on my iPod touch to check the Indeed sites and there they were staring me in the face, in an article put out by AP.
“The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose by the most in a month,” it said, “signaling growing weakness in the job market.” After plowing through a recital of statistics and an “expert” opinion or two, I reached another paragraph that began, “The economy needs to generate at least 125,000 jobs per month…”
At that point, I closed my iPod touch and got another cup of coffee. Not very uplifting for someone who’s been unemployed for going on 15 months.
As a student and practitioner of psychology, I was a specialist in statistics and their use in psychological tests. As a corporate manager and non-profit marketing director, I plied my trade in the study and interpretation of statistics with respect to buying and giving behavior and motivation.
Back in my psychology days, I used to laugh with colleagues at articles in the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity, a “magazine” that poked fun at poorly designed experiments and studies that touted meaningless statistics as “signaling” the absurd. My favorite was a psychological report describing the paranoid delusions of one “Klaus, Nicholas J.,” who believed himself able to fly one day each year. A close second was a fake journal article, written in crisp APA style, called “The Etiology and Treatment of Childhood,” which, based on the all-too-true statistical observation that taller children score higher on standardized intelligence tests, concluded that height and intelligence were strongly correlated. (Never mind the fact that 4th-graders have always been taller than 1st-graders…) Another conclusion was that a common characteristic of this “illness” called “childhood” was a condition described as “legume anorexia,” or the disinclination to eat vegetables, opting for peanut butter sandwiches and hotdogs instead. I thought it was pretty darn funny.
But when I read the article this morning, I wasn’t laughing. The fact that the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose by the most in a month doesn’t necessarily signal a growing weakness in the job market. The only thing we know for sure is that the number rose, period. Why it rose and what it signaled is an entirely different question. And then there’s that thing about the economy having to generate jobs. I don’t think so. Economies don’t make the decisions to lay people off, nor do they make the decisions to hire them. People in positions of power generate jobs and eliminate them for a number of reasons, as we all know too well.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an economic “expert” to understand the way the basic cycle is supposed to work. If people have jobs, they have income. If people have income, they spend it. If they spend it, businesses make money. If businesses make money, they hire people, who then have…jobs. Conversely, people don’t spend money if they don’t have jobs. And, even in they do have jobs, if they’re afraid, they don’t spend it. (FDR was quite right when he said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”)
To look with wisdom at the core of our distress, seek to soothe that fear and push up one’s sleeves and make decisions that affect the fewest of those on whose backs they stand is an exercise for tall people who eat their vegetables.
So, tell me…do the unemployment numbers signal a growing weakness in the job market? Or do they signal that an awful lot of citizens, primarily those who operate small-to-medium sized businesses (and in good times have always been responsible for the majority of the jobs in America), are tired and scared and discouraged or maybe not very wise? Or do they signal that we have allowed ourselves to be distracted from common sense by initially well-meaning, but almost instantly self-serving people whose primary concern is making us afraid of their political opponents so they can keep their jobs?
Wait! Did I say jobs?
You know, I may have been going about this job search thing all wrong. Maybe I should be doing “pick-and-choose” research about the last person in the job, and in my cover letters, calling him a socialist or a neo-conservative, denigrating his religion, downplaying anything he might have done (even if it benefited me) and trying to convince them that he’s the reason their sales numbers are down, despite the fact that they’ve been down since the last guy was there and the one before him. That way I can distract them from the fact that I don’t have a plan, and won’t until I get there and have a look around to see what I’m dealing with.
It has almost always worked in the past. Remind me. Who is it that they work for?