Jackie Gingrich Cushman
The debate last Wednesday has reset the presidential race. Those who thought President Obama was a shoo-in or that Republican nominee Mitt Romney was a lost cause had their perceptions turned on their heads during the debate.

Romney appeared confident, enthusiastic, engaged, knowledgeable -- in contrast, Obama appeared disinterested, arrogant and confused about why he had to endure such an event.

His body language appeared to be saying: "Why am I here, wasting my time against this guy? I have better things to do -- I could be on 'The View,' I could be hanging with Beyonce and Jay-Z."

Since then, the Obama campaign has been looking for good news to share with their supporters and appeared, on first blush, to get some last Friday when the latest unemployment figures were released.

"The unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 114,000," noted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' press release. After months of the unemployment rate hovering over 8 percent, this appeared to be good news indeed.

But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.

Let's dig deeper into the numbers, which are based on figures pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

The unemployment rate is calculated based on the Civilian Labor Force (those in our total population who are working or are actively looking for work) and the number of actively unemployed (the difference between civilian non-institutionalized labor force and the number of employed people).

It is important to note that the bureau defines unemployed persons as: "All persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4 week-period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed."

If someone is unemployed but has not looked for a job within the last four weeks, he or she would NOT be classified as unemployed, and would therefore not be included in the civilian workforce (which is calculated as the unemployed plus the employed).

Why does this matter? The unemployment rate does NOT divulge what percent of the civilian population is in the labor force. As more people become discouraged and quit looking for work, both the unemployment rate and the civilian labor rate fall. This is what has happened during the last four years.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.