How to Prove Whatever Point You Want About This Week's Job Numbers

You can make any point at all with math. Here's our guide to doing that with Friday's jobs report.

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Let's say you have a big family event to go to this weekend -- a cousin's wedding maybe (just a totally random example)—and maybe like in every family there are historical grievances that haven't totally worked themselves out . You know, Aunt Sue is still mad at your mom for some stuff that went down in 1973, Uncle Bruce is competing vicariously through his children, or whatever and maybe your family prefers to leave these grievances unspoken, and instead express it through intense political arguments. Let's just say you—not this blogger, obviously, but you—have a family like that. What do you do? You try to win. And to win you need armor. You need weapons. You need data.

Whether you're the noble conservative and Uncle Bruce is the deluded old hippie or you're the cool-headed progressive and Aunt Sue is the reactionary nutcase, you can make any point at all with math. Here's our guide to doing that with Friday's jobs report.
Starting point: The economy added 115,000 jobs in April. Unemployment drops to 8.1 percent from 8.2 percent in March.

Claim: Unemployment only dropped because people are so dispirited and broken and frustrated by the Obama economy that they've quit looking for work.
How to prove it: 342,000 people left the workforce in April, according to the Department of Labor report. The portion of working-age people participating in the work force -- 63.6 percent -- hasn't been this low since 1981. Gallup finds that 68 percent of Americans personally know someone who's been laid off.

Claim: Mitt Romney is totally clueless about the economy.
How to prove it: Romney responded to the jobs report, "We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month." But, as The New York Times' Peter Baker explains, the economy has only added that many jobs in a single month five times in the last 50 years. Only three presidents saw such a jump -- and one of them was Jimmy Carter, who saw it twice in his single term in office. Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama each saw a 500,000 job gain once. Plus, Romney said "anything over 4 percent (unemployment) is not cause for celebration." The lowest unemployment rate in the last 10 years, NBC News' Garrett Haake points out, was 4.4 percent in 2007.

Claim: No, it's the Obama administration that's totally clueless about the economy.
How to prove it: Yeah, well, Vice President Joe Biden said in 2010 that the economy would start adding 500,000 jobs a month "sometime in the next couple months," Baker explains. His revision wasn't much better: "I’m here to tell you, sometime in the next couple of months, we’re going to be creating between 250,000 jobs a month and 500,000 jobs a month." Since Obama's one half-a-million jobs blip, the economy has only added 250,000 or more in a month three times. And in February, Obama's Council of Economic Advisers predicted 2 million jobs would be created this year. That month had a surprisingly strong jobs report -- the outlook doesn't look so glowing now.

Claim: Jobs numbers look worse than they are because local government keeps laying people off. The private sector's doing fine.
How to prove it: April's jobs report pushed Obama's private jobs record into the positive territory for his first term, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. There are now 35,000 more private-sector jobs than when Obama was sworn in, and private-sector jobs have increased for 26 straight months. His record is dragged down by the fact that there are 607,000 fewer government jobs than when he took office. Government jobs were flat in April, dropped by 1,000 in March.

Claim: The economy isn't amazing, but it's doing better than it looks.
How to prove it: Jobs numbers for the last two months were revised upwards: to 259,000 in February and 154,000 in March. Consumer spending is up from a year ago, Gallup finds. Most adults say they're spending more. Gallup's job creation index is approaching a four-year high: " Net new hiring is now at its best level since July 2008," the pollster says.

Claim: People are spending more money because stuff is more expensive even though their wages haven't grown.
How to prove it: Gas cost twice what it did four years ago, the Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus points out. College tuition grew 8.3 percent in a year. Health insurance premiums had the biggest spike in cost in six years. The only thing that's not getting more expensive is their own homes -- 30 percent expect their homes to gain in value, down from 70 percent who thought that in 2005, Gallup finds.

Claim: Romney doesn't know how to grow jobs.
How to prove it: Massachusetts ranked 47th in the nation in job creation while Romney was governor, the Democratic National Committee's Brad Woodhouse argues.

Claim: Romney does too know how to grow jobs!
How to prove it: Massachusetts added 51,000 jobs even though it's population grew by only 26,500! Unemployment dropped from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent!

Claim: Mom always loved you more.
How to prove it: This can be proven by measuring who cries the hardest.
(Weddings are how God punishes us.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.