Needless to say, administration supporters will be touting that the unemployment rate released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning dropped from 9.8% to 9.4%.  Politically, this is good news for Obama, at least in the short run.

Dig just a bit deeper, and you will see that 0.2% of that drop (or half the total drop) was from a decrease in the “participation rate” from 64.5 to 64.3 of the population.  So half of the good news reflects that people have dropped out of the work force and have given up looking for work.

To put this in context, I ran a chart from the BLS website historical statistics database, showing the participation rate over the past 20 years, which shows that we are at a 20-year low:

The other disheartening statistic is reflected in the chart combining the unemployment, marginal and discouraged workers (in short, everyone who is not working but currently or at one time wanted to work, or who is employed part time because full time work was unavailable).  Combine all those and the total is 16.6% up from 16.3% November not seasonally adjusted (seasonally adjusted it is 16.7% down from 17%).  This is the highest number since 1994 (first year data available):

Here are two other charts showing the depth of the problem.  The first shows the average length of unemployment (in weeks) and the second the median length of unemployment:

While the drop in the unemployment rate from 9.8% to 9.4% is good political news, it’s hard to see any real improvement below the surface.

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