BuzzCharts has been wondering for some time how the Kerry campaign and most of the old-line media are able to stare at a perfectly comprehensible set of data and yet only see half of it. After all, the federal government recently released its monthly employment statistics and, as always, it released the results of both of its surveys. One was the heavily reported payroll survey, which showed an increase of 32,000 jobs for the month of July. The other was the household employment survey, which showed an increase of 629,000 jobs. For some reason, the results of the household survey were AWOL from America’s prestige daily newspapers.
Predictably, on the release of the new employment data, the Kerry campaign seized the payroll results and started talking about U-turns in the economy. Predictably, the Bush campaign tried to make 32,000 jobs sound like a pretty good thing. Predictably, the economically sophisticated mentioned both surveys, before debating about which one to believe.
BuzzCharts isn’t smart enough to join that debate, so we called the Bureau of Labor Statistics and asked them to send over definitions of the payroll and household surveys. It turns out that all of this is not so complicated after all: The survey showing a paltry 32,000 new jobs is a payroll survey, not an employment survey. It doesn’t measure self-employment in any way, shape, or form. Real-estate agents, general contractors, and self-employed professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and financial planners just aren’t part of this number.
In other words, the payroll survey and the household survey are not in conflict. Rather, they measure different things. If you want to know how corporate payrolls are doing in America, the answer is that they’ve done pretty well since Bush’s tax cut last year but pretty poorly in the month of July. If you want to know how many people are employed in America, the answer is that the country has created 2.15 million new jobs since the president’s tax cut last year, and 629,000 for the last month surveyed.
So, how can members of the media and the Kerry camp stare at the employment numbers and only see half? The answer must be that in their world view self-employment really doesn’t count. “Working American” must mean unionized labor or salaried middle management; “self-employment” must be some kind of capitalist sham.
To Kerry and friends, “real estate agent” must not be a real job.