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Unemployment rate falls to 8.6. Oh really...

By Dian Vujovich

I shook my head after reading that unemployment figures for November had fallen from the October figure of 9 percent down to 8.6 percent. Anyone paying attention these days had to wonder about the reality behind that tidbit of news. I mean, look around you and speak with friends and relatives and you’ll quickly hear about so-and-so who as been out of work for months or years and unable to find a job. Or someone else who is working part-time rather than full-time or working at two or three jobs to keep a roof over their head and feed their families. Then there are the thousands upon thousands who have just plain given up, moved in with friends or relatives or are adjusting to a workless life that not so very many years ago thought would have been unimaginable.

So when it comes to figures like that unemployment one, it really doesn’t matter if you’re a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person, a healthy dose of skepticism regarding a lot of the news we hear or read these days happens to be more appropriate than ever. And no, that’s not being negative, it’s being realistic.

Sharing my skepticism about the unemployment figures is John Browne.

You might recognize him from TV. He’s an economist and consultant who is often a guest nationally, as well as locally, sharing his perspectives about our economy and the world’s.

Browne was one of two speakers, the other Doug Kass, at last week’s Bull vs. Bear debate at a Palm Beach Business Group breakfast meeting. He’s a glass half-empty kind of guy with respect to lots things like where the markets are headed. As for trusting most of anything that comes out of Washington— like the recent unemployment figures—well, he’s not a believer at all. In fact, he thinks a lot of what we hear is manipulated numbers.

“Do you really believe that unemployment is only 9 percent?” he asked the audience at the Palm Beach Steakhouse on Friday. “The real figure of the real unemployed, including those that have gone off the roster, those who have given up trying, and those that have taken up a temporary job instead of a regular job is closer to 18 to 20 percent.

I happen to agree with him on that score but lean more toward that 20 percent unemployment figure than the lesser one. You’ve read that from me before, though.

Even though the Labor Department reported that job creation was stronger in September and October and that job growth has grown for four straight months—and the December figures are likely to show improvement too due to seasonal hiring—I say too many people aren’t being counted in the count. So I’m not buying those unemployment figures hook, line and sinker. Maybe you shouldn’t either.

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