Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do They Have to Make it so Easy?

As some of my readers may remember, when I began blogging, I divided numeric distortions into the following three categories:
1) lies
2) damned lies
3) statistics

I expected to spend my time writing about category 3.  Yet for some reason I'm now writing about category 2.  The latest from Rush Limbaugh (emphases mine):
Obama is always running around complaining and whining and moaning about all that he inherited from George W. Bush.  Well, he inherited a AAA credit rating, an unemployment rate of 5.7%.  Does anybody doubt that this is on purpose?
Where does Limbaugh get his numbers, exactly?  Here's the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from January 2008 through the end of 2009 (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics via Google's Public Data Explorer):

(You can get specific numbers for each month by rolling your cursor along the trend line in the plot, and you can click on the "explore data" link to play around with this a little more).  In November of 2008, when Obama was elected, unemployment stood at 6.8%, and had been on a steady upward trajectory since April of 2008, before Obama had even won the Democratic primary.  By the time Obama took office in January of 2009, unemployment had climbed to 7.8%.  In fact, unemployment in the US hasn't been at or below 5.7% since June of 2008.  So I suppose Rush thinks Obama took over from Bush from the moment he won the Democratic primary?

Not to be outdone, Sean Hannity of Fox News claimed that unemployment stood at 5.6% when Obama took over from Bush:

Look, I am not here to defend Barack Obama's economic record.  Unemployment has failed to go under 8.8% since he took office, and I might add that the BLS's numbers probably understate the true extent of unemployment because they don't account for people who want to work full-time, but are forced into part-time jobs, or people who are working at jobs for which they're grossly overqualified (e.g. all the highly intelligent law school graduates out there right now who are employed, but not as attorneys).  As Christina Romer notes, high unemployment for more than 2 years should be considered a national emergency, and I think that the long-term social and political consequences of this recession will be devastating.  Obama clearly bears a lot of responsibility here.  But apparently Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are now trying to pretend that the economy was rosy when Bush left office, and that unemployment had not begun its relentless upward march before it was even clear that Obama would be the Democratic nominee (and I guess they'll soon try to tell us that Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers didn't implode on Bush's watch either).  Damned lies, all of it.

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