David Dodd 1:10 p.m., May 24
Hunter Pushing for Change in Unemployment Calculation
Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R) of San Diego’s East County is pushing for a bill that would drastically change the way the country looks at unemployment. Under Hunter’s plan, individuals who have given up looking for work without actually finding employment would now be included in official unemployment statistics.
The new calculation method would undoubtedly cause unemployment statistics to spike, something that could be particularly damaging to the public’s perception of President Obama’s handling of the economy, especially in an election year.
Hunter denied specifically targeting the Democratic administration during an interview on Fox News. “It makes me look bad too when unemployment is sliding … it makes the Republican Congress, the president and the Democratic Senate - anybody who is an elected representative and in charge look bad. I don’t think it goes one way,” said Hunter in an excerpt from the interview published on political website The Hill.
Hunter’s one-page “REAL Unemployment Calculation Act” would simply change the definition of the “official” unemployment number to another already tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U-5 rate, which includes so-called “discouraged” workers, whose unemployment benefits expire or who voluntarily drop out of the labor force. Were the current unemployment rate to be abandoned immediately in favor of the U-5 rate, unemployment would spike from 8.2% to 9.6% overnight.
While many experts from across the political spectrum have argued that official unemployment almost certainly understates the actual depth of the problem, the U-5 rate is criticized for not taking into account the reasons people choose to leave the workforce. These could include a decision to return to school for training in a new field, who receive an inheritance, or who decide to retire early.
At present, the House Education and Workforce Committee has no plans to take action on Hunter’s bill, though he’s pledged to pursue co-sponsors, and his spokesman says he will “definitely” move for the measure to be considered “in the coming weeks.”