The final jobs report before Tuesday’s presidential election was released Friday morning and the news was largely good, if not spectacularly so. The economy created 161,000 jobs in October, according to the preliminary estimate. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.9 percent, hourly wages continued to climb, and workforce participation was little changed.
Of course, if you happened to be listening to Donald Trump and his campaign staff, your impression of the report would be...somewhat different.
“This disastrous jobs report underscores the total failures of the Obama-Clinton economy that delivers only for donors and special interests and robs working families,” Trump national policy director Stephen Miller said in a statement. “President Obama is the first President in modern history not to have a single year of three percent growth. Nearly half a million people left the workforce last month, a painful and massive decline. Over 14 million have left the workforce since Obama came into office, bringing the total not working to 94 million.
Let’s unpack that.
The first point, about growth numbers, appears to be accurate and is a real concern, getting to the possibility of what’s called “secular stagnation” in the US economy. It’s a persistent period of low or no economic growth that traditional policy tools are unable to correct.
After that, though, Miller goes off the rails. The data released by BLS shows a net decline in Americans in the labor force of about 195,000 last month. And considering that the Baby Boom generation is retiring at a rate of roughly 10,000 workers per day, that’s hardly surprising. In addition, the percentage of prime age workers (25-54) in the labor force is as high as it has been since 2012, and is climbing.
Again, complaining that 14 million people have left the workforce since Obama took office fails to account for a surge in retirement in an aging population. And complaining that 94 million Americans aren’t working only makes sense if we think, as a matter of policy, that small children, students, the elderly, stay-at-home parents, the disabled, the retired, and the elderly should be compelled to work.
However, the Trump campaign’s response to the monthly job numbers can only be taken as seriously as the candidate himself treats those numbers, and that’s apparently not very much. In New Hampshire on Friday Trump told the crowd at a rally that the numbers put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are “phony,” anyway.