Donald Trump is finally floating an idea liberals can love

Trump wants to change the official unemployment rate to an alternative measure the US government already collects.
Trump wants to change the official unemployment rate to an alternative measure the US government already collects.
Image: AP Photo/John Minchillo
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US President Donald Trump wants to raise the unemployment rate by one percentage point, and it’s actually an idea the political left can get behind.

The Washington Examiner reports the Trump administration is considering changing the official unemployment rate to a statistic that is inclusive of more jobless Americans. Trump has called the current official unemployment rate “phony“, and this change would be the first step towards making the unemployment rate reflect Trump’s dismal view of the economy.

In practical terms, the proposal would do nothing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) already collects the higher unemployment rate number that Trump wants to report. The proposal would just change the number that is emphasized in government documents and public discourse.

Currently, the official unemployment rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is defined as the percentage of unemployed people who are currently in the labor force. In order to be in the labor force, a person either must have a job or have looked for work in the last four weeks. This disregards a large number of people who want jobs, but don’t have them, including those who have given up looking.

Under Trump’s new official unemployment rate, anyone who says they want to work, but isn’t working, would be considered unemployed. For December 2016, this would have raised the number from 4.7% to 5.7%. The following chart shows the difference between the current official unemployment rate and the new rate Trump may propose since 1994 (when BLS first began collecting the latter).

Heidi Shierholz, the chief economist for the US Labor Department under the Obama administration, told the Examiner that changing the official unemployment rate might actually do some good. She suggests that a more inclusive official unemployment rate could offer a more nuanced picture of the economy.

Many economists on the left believe the current unemployment rate is too restrictive, and makes unemployment in the US appear to be less of an issue than it is. Reporting a higher number that includes people who have left the labor market because they were discouraged by their prospects might lead the public to be more concerned about helping those who can’t obtain a job.

Changing the official unemployment rate would only be a cosmetic change, but it’s one of the few changes that Trump has floated that liberals might cheer.