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FT.com / Comment & analysis - Misleading growth statistics give false comfort

The recent government report that US gross domestic product increased 0.6 per cent in the first quarter was very misleading. It implied that economic activity was rising in January, February and March. But the increase actually refers to the rise from the average level in the fourth quarter of 2007 to the average level in the first quarter. Monthly data since January indicate that economic activity and GDP have been declining since the start of this year.

Private sector payroll employment peaked last November and has fallen five months in a row, shedding more than 300,000 jobs. Industrial production was lower in March than in December and January. Real personal income net of taxes and transfers is also lower than in January. Real retail sales have fallen since the start of the year. Private housing starts are down 13 per cent in just the two months since January and 36 per cent from a year ago.

Hard numbers: The economy is worse than you know - St. Petersburg Times

Ever since the 1960s, Washington has gulled its citizens and creditors by debasing official statistics, the vital instruments with which the vigor and muscle of the American economy are measured.

The effect has been to create a false sense of economic achievement and rectitude, allowing us to maintain artificially low interest rates, massive government borrowing, and a dangerous reliance on mortgage and financial debt even as real economic growth has been slower than claimed.

Under John Kennedy, out-of-work Americans who had stopped looking for jobs -- even if this was because none could be found -- were labeled "discouraged workers" and then excluded from the ranks of the unemployed.

Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a "unified budget" that combined Social Security with the rest of the federal outlays. This innovation allowed the surplus receipts in Social Security to mask the emerging federal deficit.

Richard Nixon created a division between "core" inflation and headline inflation. If the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of "volatility," categories that happened to be troublesome (and thus in the "headlines"). At that time, it was food and energy (as it is now).

Under Ronald Reagan, the Bureau of Labor Statistics decided that housing was overstating the Consumer Price Index and substituted an entirely different "Owner Equivalent Rent" measurement, based on what a homeowner might get for renting his house. This methodology, controversial at the time but still used, sidestepped what was happening in the real world of homeowner costs. Some say that led to the mortgage crisis today.

Under the first President Bush, officials moved to reorient U.S. economic statistical measure away from old industrial-era methodologies toward the emerging services economy and the expanding retail and financial sectors. Skeptics said the underlying goal was to reduce the inflation rate in order to reduce federal payments -- from interest on the national debt to cost-of-living outlays for government employees, retirees and Social Security recipients.

Under President Clinton, the convoluted CPI changes proposed under Bush were implemented. And the Clintonites tinkered with the unemployment number, in part, by changing its housing economic sampling, disproportionately eliminating inner city households. That is believed to have reduced black unemployment estimates and eased worsening poverty figures.

Yet anothe article on creative government statistics:

Kevin Phillips: Washington's Great "No Inflation" Hoax - Business on The Huffington Post

by das monde on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 03:57:13 AM EST
Now that the USA has become the world leader in citizen imprisonment, imagine what our unemployment statistics would be if the incarcerated had to be counted among the unemployed.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 06:26:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One doesn't have to imagine - there have been attempts to estimate this. Of course, the incarcerated would not all be unemployed if they were released, but it's likely that a higher proportion of them would be than of the general population.

I can't find any details right now, but I seem to remember that with normal incarceration levels, unemployment figures would be about 2% higher than they currently are, while employment figures would drop a bit (I think by less than 1%). Does anybody have reliable data for either of these figures?

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 06:43:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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