PA Unemployment Drops Below 7 Percent. Tom Corbett Wins*

*Except, of course, if you look inside the numbers

PoliticsPA reports: “Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9% in December, down from 7.3% in November. This is the lowest rate it’s been in five years and according to the Department of Labor and Industry, it was the largest one-month decline since July 1983.”

Sounds good, right? Gov. Tom Corbett’s camp thinks so. “Governor Corbett is keeping his promises, holding the line on new taxes, restoring fiscal sanity and putting Pennsylvanians back to work,” Corbett campaign spokesman Billy Pitman told PoliticsPA.

Only there’s this:

Yes, the unemployment rate has fallen. But so has the number of people in the workforce, folks who are either working or trying to get jobs. Let’s look at August’s numbers, for example:

• The labor force contained 6.512 million Pennsylvanians.

• 6.011 million of them were working.

• But 501,200 of them weren’t.

• Which created an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent for the month, the highest of the last half-year.

The number of employed Pennsylvanians actually kept dropping most of the months since then—but so did the unemployment rate. Why? Because workers kept dropping out of the workforce: As of December, the labor force had declined to 6.443 million Pennsylvanians. So the Corbett Administration claims a victory, even though there are actually 11,000 fewer Pennsylvanians working.

The lesson? Math is a damned liar.

Anyway, that doesn’t sound like job creation, and in fact PoliticsPA notes: “For the past two months, Pennsylvania was 46th in job creation (when using a 12 month moving average). This month, the Commonwealth fell to 47th.”

In fairness: Some economists make the case that some of those people dropping out of the workforce these days are Baby Boomers taking early retirement. In which case, the labor force is “rightsizing” itself. But there’s a lot of skepticism about that explanation. Lots of people have simply given up trying to find work. That’s not a policy victory for anybody but the way these numbers are usually reported, it can be made to look that way.