Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
 
It's All About The Rate

Matthew Yglesias makes a point worth repeating: even if we're doing slightly better than February 2001 in absolute number of jobs, we're not doing better in terms of actual employment:
The American population grows at around 0.9 percent each year -- that means we've got something like 9 or 10 million more people than we had in February 2001 chasing the additional 300,000 jobs. The recovery, clearly, is no longer literally jobless. We've got the old jobs back, and then some. But there's no reason workers should be "breath[ing] easy" or believing that "A brightening labor market could make this the time to look for a new job." [emphasis mine.]

If you ask the Bureau of Labor Statistics to spit out the Unemployed as Percent of the Labor Force, looking at reentrants, new entrants, and job losers, you get 1.6, 0.5, and 2.7 percent respectively. Not terrible numbers (sort of equivalent to circa 1995) but not fabulous numbers either. My point is not to quibble with the conclusion but to point out that percentages and rates are often more important than absolute numbers. Last week Canadian college math instructor and blogger Moebius Stripper had an elegant post on her efforts to educate her students about compound interest:
Well, speaking as a college instructor, my entire work rests upon the illusion that students are adults, capable of rational thought and analysis of the world around them. Consequently, I strive to challenge their brains with facts and theories, rather than shield their sensitive eyes from things that I’ve “had enough” of. So, last semester, rather than remove the ads whose revenue helps offset my students’ tuition and related fees, I addressed their mounting credit card debt in a fashion even more radical for this West Coast campus: I educated them. . . .And, all due respect to Pink Floyd and all - that, kids, is the difference between education and thought control. . .But if I ever saw a student of mine defacing said ads with the compound interest equations and calculations pertinent to the interest rate offered - that, now, would be a happy day for this college educator.
As the kind of person who fantasizes about political protests that don't involve puppets or bongo drums, but instead legions of people armed with clipboards, graphing calculators, and budget projections, I can say amen to that.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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