Politics is in the Numbers; Both Sides of the Unemployment Report

The Washington politisphere can look at the very same set of numbers and come up with vastly different conclusions. You can almost set your watch by it. Take, for example, Friday's unemployment report:

First, the numbers...

The Labor Department announced today that the nation's unemployment rate had dropped from 9.7% to 9.5%. The report also said that employers cut 125,000 jobs last month, the most since October. The job loss was in part due to the expiration of temporary census jobs. The private sector did fuel some job gains as they continued hiring; tacking on a net total of 83,000 workers.

Now, for the spin...

First up, President Obama...

"This morning, we received the June employment report. It reflected the planned phase out of 225,000 temporary census jobs. But it also showed the sixth straight month of job growth in the private sector," the president told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base.

"All told, our economy has created nearly 600,000 private sector jobs this year," he continued. "That's a stark turnaround from the first six months of last year, when we lost 3.7 million jobs at the height of the recession."

However, Obama's own party leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, D-Nev., says it's all in how you look at it. Cognizant of the 14 percent unemployment rate in his home state in the midst of his tough re-election campaign, he said in a statement, "The fact that the private sector created jobs for the sixth straight month may be a positive trend to economists, but it's no comfort to the millions of hard-working Americans and Nevadans who want work but can't find a job in this tough economy."

Not surprisingly, the House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, went further. "This jobs report is a disappointment for every family and every small business who heard President Obama declare just weeks ago that our economy is 'getting stronger by the day,'" Boehner said in a statement.

Therein lies the difference. The Obama White House, using the very same statistics, sees overall improvement in the economy, albeit slow. Mr. Obama likely remembers all of the negative punditry about breaching the 10% jobless mark and may see a number like 9.5% as politically viable.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele does not, "While a dip in the unemployment rate should be welcome news, this decline should be taken with a grain of salt. The 125,000 jobs lost last month coupled with a sharp drop in employment reflects a labor force that continues to deteriorate."

Continued labor force deterioration? Tell that to Obama economic advisor Christina Romer. She says the White House expects the shrinking of the nation's labor force "to be reversed as employment prospects continue to improve."

So how can two sides see the same nationwide 9.5% unemployment rate as both positive and negative? The numbers don't reflect reality, says Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich.

"Only government could come up with something that says you've been unemployed too long to be considered unemployed." McCotter told Fox News Friday. "In fact, what you would find, as a statistic, is that if every American in the world stopped looking for work, you would have an unemployment rate of zero."

Romer believes she has the solution to the number jumble, "[I]t is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision. Emphasis should be placed on persistent trends rather than month-to-month fluctuations."

But it's a good bet you'll hear different takes on those, too.