So White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted something:
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) July 7, 2017
It’s a link to the conservative site Free Beacon, celebrating that over 153 million Americans are employed as of the June 2017 jobs report released Friday morning. In short order, the official presidential Twitter account (though not @realDonaldTrump) retweeted Spicer’s proud message.
And, as reported, that figure is indeed the highest on record. During no month, stretching back to January 1948, have more Americans been employed than there are right now.
More people working is good news, and more people working than ever before is good news, too.
But astute observers may note that this record high in employment breaks a record broken fairly recently — specifically in the April jobs report. Which broke a record set in the March report. Which broke a record in the February report. In fact, for four months this year, a record was set, after eight monthly records were set in 2016 and 10 the year before that.
Why? Well, as it turns out, the population keeps growing.
It would have been very hard for the January 1948 employment number to be higher than the number in June of this year, given that there were 50 percent more people working last month than made up the civilian noninstitutional population at the beginning of that year. When you have more people in the country, you can have more people employed.
If we consider instead the percent of the population that’s employed, June wasn’t anything special, continuing an upward trend that began after the last recession.
But it’s not really anywhere close to the record high of that metric, which was set after the 1990s economic boom — specifically in April of 2000. That month, 64.74 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population was working, compared with 60.08 percent last month.
In other words, that 153 million people mark is impressive only if you ignore the country’s population growth over time.
How common are new peaks in the number of people employed? Very. In 45 percent of the months since January 1948, a new high was set.
The lulls generally correlate with recessions.
Even looking at just the first six months of the year, 2017 isn’t that impressive. In the past 70 years, 27 years have seen at least four of the first six months set new employment records.
It’s much more rare to see new population-percentage records set. Those usually come during economic booms. We are not currently in an economic boom.
The Trump White House and Spicer specifically keep falling into this trap of presenting misleading or questionable statistics to brag about their success. There’s nothing at all wrong with June’s job numbers, which beat expectations and showed nearly a quarter of a million more people going to work. But for Trump et al., everything has to be the biggest and most amazing and most exceptional.
Steady growth is not exciting. A new all-time high! is — even though it doesn’t really mean anything.