Co-nun-drum \ kə-‘nən-drəm \ n [origin unknown] (1645) 1: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun 2 a : a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b : an intricate and difficult problem syn see MYSTERY. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
Now there’s a word: conundrum.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about unemployment rates across the South after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that several Southern states saw an uptick in the number of those looking for work. The BLS report, the last report before the midterm elections (pretty convenient release date), announced a rosy national unemployment rate of 5.9%, the lowest reading since July, 2008.
This is certainly good news for those who found work.
The WSJ story reports that the “recent number left many economists scratching their heads, unable to explain why unemployment appears [to be] on the rise across the South” while other data stands in stark contravention to the trend.
In other words, a “conundrum”.
And indeed it is. In the September survey period Georgia’s nonfarm payrolls rose 1.2%. Overall this year, business growth and expansion in Georgia created over 28,000 jobs and business investment in the state topped $5 billion. More importantly, over half of these newly created jobs and over 75% of that investment occurred outside of the metro Atlanta area. (Question: Could the sun be setting on the “Two Georgia’s” theory? Another topic, another day.)
On top of that, Georgia has recently garnered three coveted No. 1 rankings. Site Selection Magazine gave Georgia straight “A’s” in its “business climate” and “most competitive business climate” ratings. CNBC heralded that Georgia is now the best state in the nation for business.
But businesses in Georgia already knew this. For example, in 2014 the aerospace industry increased its payrolls by 25%, call centers increased employment by 103% (sorry, India) and international companies created nearly 6,000 positions. This ain’t chicken feed.
What’s more is that Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of September totaled $1.81 billion, a 5% increase over the same period last year. Georgia, then, is simply not in a recession.
None of these verified statistics are consistent with a state reported to have a rising unemployment rate. It simply doesn’t make sense that the national unemployment rate would be at 5.9% and the South, including Georgia, being growth areas, would have higher unemployment rates. So what gives?
A couple of things to consider. First, unemployment rates are said to be “lagging indicators” meaning that they are often the last to signal real economic growth. Second, the BLS often revises its numbers once all the data is in so the number is subject to change. Then there’s this: consider the source.
The BLS report is the last report out before the midterm elections. And the numbers reported are subject to revision, say, about this time next month, after the November 4 elections.
Those counted in the BLS report are not only those without work seeking employment but also part-time workers, some working as little as an hour a week, who are counted as “employed”. This is the “U-3” rate, the most commonly used standard.
But there’s another. The “U-6” rate which includes the U-3 elements but also those, including part-timers that want to work fulltime, who are looking for work but can’t find work and/or simply gave up. That number gives an unemployment rate at 11.8%. Not a pretty number.
The BLS is a component of the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor. And whether on the right or on the left, political pundits call these midterm elections “pivotal”. Georgia, some claim, is “in play” and polling data seems to support that contention since the GOP lead in the gubernatorial and US Senate races is generally within the margin of error.
It stands to reason, then, that a Democrat Administration would want to release numbers touting national economic advancement while at the same time “dissing” the same in Republican governed states. There is a real motive here and it’s not very mysterious.
The BLS report may well present something beyond a conundrum, perhaps a prevarication. After all, “All’s fair in love and war.” And if nothing else, elective politics is sheer war.
Gary Wisenbaker, B.A., J.D. is a native of South Georgia where he practiced law in Valdosta and Savannah for 31 years. He has served as state Chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans and Chairman of the Chatham County (Savannah) Republican Party. Gary is a past GOP nominee for State Senate, past delegate to the Republican National Convention and has chaired or co-chaired numerous Republican campaigns for President, US Senate on the county and district level as well as local campaigns. Gary hosts his own blog at www.garywisenbaker.com