WASHINGTON -- Mark Twain, who took a dim view of our elected officials, once said that in the world of politics and government there were lies, damned lies and statistics.
The headlines that followed Friday's report said that the number of unemployed Americans had fallen. But the fine print beneath that statistic revealed that this decline was owing largely to the 315,000 discouraged job seekers who stopped looking for work last month and thus were no longer counted among the unemployed.
When you deduct these frustrated, long-term jobless Americans from the labor pool equation, guess what? The unemployment rate falls.
This isn't something to take credit for or to cheer over. It's another painful manifestation of President Obama's spectacular failure to get the economy growing again and producing jobs for anyone who wants one.
Less than a year before the 2012 presidential election, the future of the economic landscape looks as bleak as ever. The economy created 120,000 jobs in November, barely enough to keep pace with population growth. But that isn't near the number required to cut unemployment down to normal levels. We need to produce more than 13 million jobs over the next three years just to lower the unemployment rate to 6 percent.
"Considering continuing layoffs at state and local governments and federal spending cuts, private sector jobs must increase at least 400,000 a month to accomplish that goal," says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.
Few if any reputable economists see that happening in the next few years under this administration's policies.
So while 8.6 percent unemployment sounds better than the 9 percent range we've been stuck in for a long time, it isn't much of an improvement because that statistic hides so many other components of the real jobless rate.
At best, one could say that it has pushed the rate back to where it was "during the depths of the recession," as The Associated Press put it. But that isn't saying much.
For a fuller and truer picture of the nation's employment crisis, look to the Gallup Poll, which regularly measures the depths of underemployment across the country.
"Underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed with the percentage working part-time but wanting full-time work, is 18.1 percent in November," Gallup reported last week.
"That is up from 17.8 percent a month ago and 17.2 percent a year ago. Many employers appear to have chosen to hire part-time rather than full-time for this holiday season," Gallup said.
Notably, the economy's two major employment workhorses continued to show significant weaknesses.