Today's random question: why is so much of politics about job count numbers?

I noticed today that it seems like all you ever hear about anymore from politicians in media as a sales tactic for a policy is “it’ll create jobs at good wages.” And from the opposition you hear that it won’t, or that it’ll actively destroy jobs.

The thing that’s especially interesting about this is it’s completely bipartisan, and it becomes louder in recessions, but it never goes away. Pretty much from 1992 on all I can remember is jobs this, jobs that - the GOP pushing for tax cuts to create jobs, Democrats calling for investment in something to create jobs, no matter the state of the economy or unemployment rate.

One possibility is they’re in an odd rhetorical culdesac and are selling things no one actually cares about. That’s not the impression I get, though; “it’ll make jobs” seems to be disturbingly effect for getting a policy through. Hell, Clinton was using it in 1999, when the unemployment rate was supposedly as low as it could go.

On the face of it by the standard set of statistics and models, this is completely insane. The unemployment rate is controlled to first order by the Federal Reserve Chairman. It’s not like there’s this huge army of the unemployed out there desperately wishing for jobs. If it’s really just a proxy for better jobs and higher wages, way do politicians not say that instead? To hear them talk you’d think the unemployment rate was 40%.

So what’s the deal here?

I think you need to substantiate some of the conclusions you’ve come to myself.

Everybody has a job, or is dependant on someone who has a job. (Bush family excluded.) Any issue that relates to every person in America is by definition an important issue, politically.


I think it boils down to the nature of our capitalist economy. To ensure increasing revenue and growth, you need people to consume. To consume, people need money gained from working a job. Like Houngan explained, any metric that is integrated so heavily into our economy and individual lives is bound to be discussed heavily in politics.

Which is more astounding:

  1. That you wonder why politicians spend so much time talking about jobs. I’ll give you a hint, it’s because people who vote care about jobs.

  2. That you think that politicians don’t have any influence on the unemployment rate.

  3. That you think there’s not a huge army of the unemployed right now. Unemployment is topping 9 percent right now, which would have easily tipped the last election in which Obama won in a “landslide”. Underemployment when added to unemployment is topping 18 percent which is enough to tip even real landslides like local well loved mayors and such. If you throw in everyone who has been put on furlough, had a bonus or some overtime cut that adds up to pretty much everyone which is enough to cause rioting in the streets if the wages get below an affordable standard of living.

Jason your original post is approaching epic standards of thoughtlessness. I haven’t seen anything so amazingly clueless since Koontz invented amateur porn:

  1. That no one has called you on what a silly premise this post was built on to begin with by posting a simple LOL YOU SUX.

I’m personally stunned the most by number three.

Yup I double checked the date to make sure you didn’t post this in mid 07, you’re either a troll or a buffoon.

To take politicians literally, you’d expect it to be the case that there’s just not enough jobs to go around out there until they do their policy. Plus by my reading jobs rhetoric simply did not exist before about 1980 or so; from Nixon on back it wasn’t really mentioned except in the concept of racial minorities. FDR talked quite a bit about it, but from Truman on rhetoric about job counts didn’t really happen.

  1. It’s the specific way they care about jobs - the number of them.
  2. Politicians influence unemployment at the margins, not definitely.
  3. I said I was talking about the last 30 years, not right now or recessions.

The thing that’s especially interesting about this is it’s completely bipartisan, and it becomes louder in recessions, but it never goes away.

Firstly that’s not true, have you forgotten we had a great depression? Read some history. The political situation was completely driven by boosting employment.

If by somehow you mistyped the word Nixon when you meant Hoover, well then I would half forgive you for not knowing that before the great depression this country was a pre industrial agricultural society where there was more land than there was hands to work it. Everyone able bodied had to put in work sunup to sundown just to scratch up enough food to eat.

If you really mean Nixon I’ll post another huge hearty LOL here.

Are you even reading the words I type? The part where I mentioned after FDR?

Here’s a list of the historical unemployment rate, it was very low from Truman to Nixon, only going above 5 percent once. It’s not coincidence that creating jobs became a political issue when Nixon was president.

More reading on this time and why jobs became a hot button is here:

Politicians talk about jobs because voters care about jobs. They keep doing it because it works. The competing theories that tax cuts or public spending create jobs are unproven, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like saying “think of the children”, sound and fury signifying nothing. It doesn’t matter whether they do create jobs or not, the important point is that nobody can oppose something that’s ostensibly being done to create jobs, just like you can’t oppose something that supposedly protects children from pedophiles.

  1. It’s really the overall rate that drives policy and civil unrest however if a politician can say he created ten thousand jobs it sounds better than saying he decreased the unemployment rate by .001 percent. Politicians talk this way because talking in statistical and percentage terms makes the change sound minimal while talking in a number of jobs makes it sound like a big change.

  2. You’re partially right, if you’re examining US politics and believe that our political system is stable enough that we’re not going to monkey around with our core institutions too much. However ultimately the political situation is just as important as monetary policy in driving industry and growth. Why do the US and Russia have such different employment numbers when they have about equal size, capital and resources. I’ll give you a clue, it’s probably not their respective central banking activities.

  3. I re-read your posts and you said no such thing. However giving you a benefit of a doubt; defining a time period of say from Nixon to Bush and limiting the conversation to only the expansionary portion of the business cycle doesn’t make your original post much less absurd.

Well shit, you’ve explained it in one shot! I had no idea unemployment was so low for so long, and just assumed the last twenty years was not particularly different; no wonder. Bretton Woods is fascinating, yeah.

I guess the lesson for me is that unemployment that goes above 5% or so in recessions results in permanent voter concern across the business cycle - I still think there’s a bizarrely high amount of job count/unemployment rate rhetoric outside of recessions. I wonder why that’s the tipping point. 5% seems high for NAIRU compared to the post-1990 period. Maybe there’s something going on there about minority unemployment; I’ve never been a big believer in all those dressed-up “productivity growth lowered it” theories.

Are you fucking leotarded? Seriously Jason, that’s just…wow.

Again, don’t look at right now, look at the “usual” level.

Define “usual.” 6%, 7%? Even assuming that’s it, that number still won’t include how many people need better paying jobs because they’re barely making ends meet at their minimum wage craphole, or the people who have given up, etc.

6+% is a number that can swing an election, so doing stuff that “makes jobs” is a no-brainer.

Historical perspective: politicians have been talking about jobs and job creation for, oh, about 60 years or so, and perhaps before that. It’s a safe subject (who’s against people having jobs?), and keeps the rabble happy thinking their elected representatives are actually concerned for their welfare.

Somewhere between 3-5% is full employment anyway - there are always some people between jobs/ firms going bankrupt/ new entrants to labour market searching for jobs. So, yes, at somepoint above 5% unemployment becomes a political issue, because now you have people desparately seeking jobs, rather than being confident that in a few weeks they’ll have one.

Fair enough. But why do people who already have decent jobs care so much? It still seems to work. I hear people with good jobs reciting the “it’ll create jobs” line or bemoaning “that’s going to cost some jobs” when it won’t actually affect that particular person at all.

I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t care about others and should only think selfishly, but I thought the common political approach was to assume self-interest when spouting promises. How is this one issue so different? Psychologically, I mean (or perhaps socially)?

Because more good jobs is always good for a capitalistic society? Obviously people can’t buy that new gadget, that new car or Majesty 2 if they don’t have a job (well, they can but they probably shouldn’t).

There is also always the chance of finding a better job or having your position increased because your job of making widgets is now very in demand.

Not to mention the slightly shit economy we’re in…