About statistics, Mark Twain quipped: “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” He also made famous the quote: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” He did not originate the second quote. Given these quotes, however, you can surmise that Twain did not always hold statistics in high regard.
I am beginning to understand the dark side of statistics. Mundane statistics can be scandalous if placed out of context. George Bernard Shaw illustrated this when he said: “Statistics show that of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.”
Let’s look at a statistic that has been floating up around us quite a bit recently. About once each week, I see this statistic posted on social media. A banner reads something like this: Record 95 Million Americans Eligible to Work Not in the Labor Force; Number has Grown Steadily since 2009.
Think about this—95 million Americans who are eligible to work are either not working or are not looking for work.
But here is the rest of the story. The sharp upward climb in the number of Americans not participating in the workforce started long before 2009. The number has been climbing steadily since 1996. When you look behind the big number you find who is counted. Anybody age 16-and-over is counted. All retirees are counted. All high school students aged 16 and above are counted. College students are counted. Stay-at-home parents are counted. Those on disability are counted. Lazy bums are counted.
Did the “Great Recession” add numbers of people who wanted to work but could not find work?
But, since 2009, 14 million more people have been added to the labor force. The big engine of change driving this huge number is really the mass of baby boomers hitting the retirement trail. My hope is to add myself in the mix soon.