Jazz earlier described Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a gift to the GOP, but perhaps more accurately, she’s a gift that keeps on giving. So too for that matter is her appearance with Margaret Hoover on PBS’ Firing Line this weekend. Not only did she fumble an answer on the “Palestinian occupation,” Ocasio-Cortez managed to err completely on a basic economic question — despite her supposed expertise in the subject:
Socialist Ocasio-Cortez confronted with booming economy & low unemployment numbers.
She says "Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs” and "Capitalism has not always existed in the world and will not always exist in the world.” pic.twitter.com/dxIqwqZn89
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 16, 2018
As Geico once said, that’s not how this works — that’s not how any of this works. The unemployment rate is actually a fairly simple calculation, based on the Household Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS calls tens of thousands of respondents a month and extrapolates the number of people who have no job at all and who still are looking for jobs across the entire population as the Department of Labor has always defined the measure, emphasis mine:
The nation’s unemployment rate is widely recognized as a key indicator of labor market performance. This is in large part because of the objective manner in which the concept of unemployment is defined. To be classified as unemployed, a person must be without work, be available for work, and have actively searched for work.
The BLS then divides that extrapolated figure by the extrapolated number of people in the entire workforce. That’s how we get the U-3 standard unemployment rate each month; we divide the number of working-force-active people with no jobs by the total workforce. People who have two jobs, three jobs, or eighteen jobs are not counted within that group. If they have multiple jobs, they are counted among the employed — a fairly obvious fact that somehow Ocasio-Cortez missed on her way to her degree in economics. Boston University might want to recheck her grades.
This is no small matter, not for an economist and certainly not for a candidate for Congress. Unemployment figures tell a specific, if sometimes unclear, story about the national economy and the need for wise policy. Grasping the mechanics of those statistics is a baseline requirement for crafting such policies. Not only did Ocasio-Cortez not learn it in school, she has apparently had no desire to teach herself about it before preaching her interpretation publicly to the media. It’s a strange combination of arrogance and ignorance that’s fast becoming the Ocasio-Cortez trademark.
That arrogance may be why even her fellow Democrats are getting tired of her schtick:
“She’s carrying on and she ain’t gonna make friends that way,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). “Joe conceded, wished her well, said he would support her … so she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.”
“She’s not asking my advice,” he added, “[but] I would do it differently, rather than make enemies of people.”
Asked if Ocasio-Cortez is, indeed, making enemies of fellow Democrats, Pascrell didn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) offered a similar message, saying success in the 435-member House comes slowly — and hinges largely on the ability of lawmakers to forge constructive relationships with other members. Alienating more senior lawmakers within your own party, he warned, will only stifle the ability of Ocasio-Cortez to get anything done — even despite her newfound celebrity.
“Meteors fizz out,” Hastings said. “What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance.”
He added: “You come up here and you’re going to be buddy-buddy with all the folks or you’re going to make them do certain things? Ain’t happening, OK?”
Ocasio-Cortez would be better served by remembering the old axiom: It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Addendum: It’s worth noting, contra Ocasio-Cortez, that job openings have been at or near all-time highs this entire year. In another mark of a strengthening job market, voluntary departures hit a 17-year high in June, showing that worker confidence in mobility is peaking again. There are reasons to suspect that the U-3 and U-6 might still have some discouraged-worker overhangs, but the trend has been positive for some time and unemployment is actually dropping — despite some people having more than one job, not because of it.
Update: Even Ocasio-Cortez’ basic assertion turns out to be wrong. On a percentage basis, the number of people claiming to have more than one job is actually lower than pre-Great Recession levels, and has been fairly stable during the recovery: