I am perfectly aware that President Trump’s tweets goading the news media for not covering things are an attempt to draw more coverage to whatever it is he’s frustrated about. Well, that and to reinforce to his base of support that reporters are hopelessly, endlessly out to get him.
That said, one such goad on Thursday morning probably deserves a response. Specifically, this one:
The economy is indeed doing well, something that The Washington Post and other news outlets have reported on regularly. It’s probably true, though, that we don’t often focus on that “more people working than at any point in history claim” — but there’s a very good reason.
Let’s explain that reason the long way.
The government tracks monthly employment numbers, and in December, the most recent month for which data was available, more than 150 million non-farm employees were working in the United States.
Farm employees are excluded because of the seasonality of that work. But seasonal factors still come into play — holiday shopping, summer leisure jobs, etc. — that are smoothed out in the adjusted figure seen above. As it turns out, if we look at the raw number, there was actually a decrease in employed people from November 2018 to December.
But that’s a nitpick. Generally speaking, Trump is correct. Since at least 1939, when data became readily available from the Federal Reserve, there haven’t been as many people working as there are now. So how do we know that Trump’s claim that there haven’t been as many people working in American history is correct? Well, because there are more people working now than there were Americans 80 years ago.
It would be very hard for the number of people working in the United States to exceed the number of people in the country, so Trump is correct when he says this is the peak in history.
But because the population increases regularly, that’s not really much of an accomplishment by itself. Since 1939, more than half of the months have had new records in the total number of non-farm employees, including each of the past 56 months — going back to about halfway through President Barack Obama’s second term.
Instead of looking at the raw number of employees, economists look instead at the employment-population ratio, a metric that examines the number of workers in the context of the population. On that metric, things have improved consistently since the depths of the recession, but the current level is the highest only since about 2008.
It’s a less interesting metric for Trump’s purposes, which is hyping his success on the economy. So he focuses on the raw number instead, allowing him to make the sort of BEST EVER!! declaration that he enjoys.
But because, in context, that figure doesn’t tell us much besides that the population keeps going up, the media doesn’t similarly hype it.
Except, you know. In this article.