2. It’s the perception that matters. In the end, though, I think nitpicking the numbers around the edges misses the forest for the trees, at least in terms of election analysis. That’s because the numbers themselves don’t matter. Very few people on the street, if asked to cite the unemployment rate, would likely be able to give a correct number, even within a few tenths of a point.
In the end, if the decline in the unemployment rate really is about people leaving the workforce, or if the seasonal adjustment is off, then people will see the headline number, recall their neighbor or brother who has been out of work for a month (or more), and mutter something about lies, damned lies, and statistics. The president will be able to run a 30-second ad bragging about the unemployment rate being lower than when he took office, but if it’s at odds with what Americans are actually experiencing, it won’t matter (and it could hurt).
Just remember that what we’re trying to do with these numbers is infer how the public thinks the economy is doing. This is usually a lagging indicator. Right now, the public still perceives the economy as doing pretty poorly, even after a couple of years’ expansion, and after past employment numbers that have been as strong as the ones announced Friday.