Newly declared Republican presidential contender Ben Carson says you shouldn't trust the Obama administration when it says the nation's unemployment rate stands at only 5.5 percent. "Many of these people buy -- hook, line and sinker -- the idea that our economy is getting much better and that the unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent," the famed neurosurgeon told supporters at Monday's campaign announcement in Detroit.
For much of President Obama's first term, the Republican line was pretty straightforward: there's a jobs crisis and the White House's agenda isn't lowering the unemployment rate fast enough.
In the president's second term, the GOP line has evolved: the unemployment rate may have dropped dramatically, but it doesn't count because the number has been manipulated.
According to the retired right-wing neurosurgeon, if the nation's unemployment rate were actually 5.5 percent, "our economy would be humming," so the rate "obviously" isn't 5.5 percent -- it's just what "slick politicians and biased media" want Americans to believe.
Carson added, "[W]hat you have to know is that you can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be based on what numbers you include and what numbers you exclude. You have to look at the labor force participation rate."
This comes up from time to time, invariably from Republicans who don't want Obama to get credit for a vastly improved economy. But it's important to understand the degree to which Carson's argument, and the point pushed by unemployment truthers in general, doesn't make sense.
In reality, there is more than one way to measure unemployment, but what most Americans consider the official rate -- sometimes called the "U-3" metric -- really is 5.5 percent, down from 10 percent at the height of the Great Recession.
That's not a fantasy, and it's not the result of conspiracy. It's just the actual number. Carson wants people to believe "you can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be," but that's absurd -- one can point to other metrics, but the official unemployment rate is not malleable. It's a specific measurement based on a specific criteria, revised multiple times for accuracy.
Republicans occasionally like to suggest the figure has been manipulated by partisan officials orchestrating a massive scam, but that's plainly crazy. Even the most wild-eyed conspiracy theorists will concede there's literally no evidence to bolster the allegation.
The truth isn't even complicated: the U.S. economy has created roughly 11 million jobs over the last five years, which pushed the unemployment rate down in a hurry. It's not spin from "slick politicians and biased media"; it's just what happened.
And what about the labor-force participation rate Carson cited? That rate combines all of the Americans with jobs, adds those currently looking for jobs, and divides the total by the size of the population. The labor-force participation rate has been declining steadily for over a decade -- long before Obama took office -- largely as a result of the growing population of seniors retiring and leaving the workforce.
The labor-force participation rate does not disprove the creation of millions of new jobs, though it does affect the unemployment rate. Indeed, if Carson and others on the right want to argue that the unemployment rate itself isn't the best metric for economic success, I'd be inclined to agree.
But that's not Carson's pitch. Rather, the Republican presidential hopeful finds it easier to believe reality is being manipulated by his perceived foes to pull the wool over Americans' eyes. That's just nonsense.