Daily Reckoning Contributor

Richard Benson

Our elected officials and Wall Street executives all have a vested interest in keeping the perception of a robust economy alive. The employment data announced each month is critical to this perception, but a thorough analysis of the data suggests something quite different than what we are told.

Since 9/11, 60 percent of job creation has related almost directly to the housing boom and consumer spending, generated from home equity extraction through mortgage refinance. Remember, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to one percent and kicked off the greatest housing bubble of all time. The housing boom created an America with over 1,200,000 real estate agents, and hundreds of thousands of jobs in the mortgage and home construction industry.

On the surface, the job market looks sound and Wall Street bulls take every opportunity to reinforce this belief whenever low initial unemployment claims are announced. But common sense tells me there is something brewing below the surface and this housing bust will have an even bigger impact on our economy, than previously suggested, by reducing employment and consumer spending, in a big way.

(The officially reported governmental statistics fail to note that a very high percentage of new jobs created in the past few years were commission-only jobs, or jobs with independent contractor status. Workers categorized as independent contractors are not eligible for unemployment benefits. This means all of the real estate agents who haven’t made a sale, along with the mortgage bankers who no longer have a company to bring their loans to, will not be filing for unemployment, even though they haven’t made a dime. The Department of Labor Statistics, however, continues to view these unemployed and vastly under-employed workers as holding full- time jobs.)

The latest employment data from the payroll survey showed it added 88,000 workers. However, the household survey – a broader measure – showed a loss of almost 500,000 jobs. According to the household survey, over 360,000 workers simply dropped out of the labor force in April. So, if you want to believe the Wall Street touts, please go right ahead and put your rose-colored glasses back on and tune into that movie with the happy Hollywood ending. If, on the other hand, you think like me and believe there is an economic storm brewing, please read on.

Our government “prints up jobs out of thin air” the same way the Federal Reserve prints up money. To manufacture jobs, The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses their very own Net Birth/Death computer model (see CES Net Birth/Death Model for job creation at www.bls.gov). The idea behind the model is simple: Because small firms are always failing and starting up and it takes a few months for them to report on the payroll survey, an estimate is needed for the new jobs created. So, back when the economy was recovering, the Net Birth/Death Computer Model added jobs that had very likely been created. Their methodology goes like this:

- The Net Birth/Death model first creates jobs on a non-seasonally adjusted basis;

- The computer-generated jobs are then added to the jobs actually reported by the payroll survey for the month;

- The new total is then seasonally adjusted which creates the reported monthly unemployment number announced to the public. It’s only much later that ongoing payroll surveys confirm or rebut the estimated job creation.

I realize the above may sound confusing, but it’s actually meant to. This is economic propaganda created by our very own government! This false creation of jobs is not that much different from the over-stated earnings created by the executives at Enron that brought the company down.

You may now be wondering how many jobs in 2007 have simply been made up and reported by the computer model so far? Well, in February there were 118,000 jobs added; in March, there were 128,000; and in April, 317,000. That amounts to 563,000 in the last three months. Without the computer, the payroll survey would have shown a loss of jobs over the last three months.

Let’s take a look at the data for April to get a better idea (see Chart below):

Wow, what a productive computer! Without the government’s computer to estimate and create jobs, the payroll data for April would actually have shown a loss of 229,000 jobs, not a gain of 88,000. [88,000 - 317,000 = 229,000 Jobs Lost]. Except for the magic job-creating CES Net Birth/Death Model computer, the payroll survey and the household survey would be pointing in the same direction.

Where is employment going? American factories have shed thousands and thousands of jobs, and new factories (or existing ones) are moving to Asia where labor is cheaper. If you thought this trend was over, pick up the newspaper tomorrow and read about all of the big corporate mergers and private equity firms buying public companies. Yes, this buyout activity pushes stock prices up at first, but don’t be fooled. These private equity deals and mergers usually mean that the buyer has only two things in mind: 1) to cut competition and raise prices; and 2) to slash the number of employees, gut healthcare benefits, and rob the pension plans. Is it simply my imagination or are mass layoffs and worker buyouts on the rise? I firmly believe that the stock market is up only because of easy money, stock buy-backs, and the leveraging away of our country’s future.

The job picture does not look bright. The average homeowner can no longer refinance their mortgage and take additional cash out. Moreover, falling employment and wages may partially explain why consumer credit spiked up in March as incomes have not kept up with inflation and the credit card is being used to buy food and basics. Sluggish retail sales indicate the consumer is finally tapped out, and that does not bode well for corporate growth and hiring plans.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Do you really believe the job losses last month of 468,000 in the broadly-based household employment survey, or do you believe the payroll survey computer model that created 317,000 jobs? Do you believe the economy is strong and getting stronger, or do your believe that the housing bust is for real. The fate of the dollar, and your stock market portfolio, is hanging in the balance!

Editor’s Note: Richard Benson is the President of Specialty Finance Group, LLC. He is frequently quoted by the Mogambo Guru, and his articles appear in many fine publications.

Daily Reckoning Contributor

The Daily Reckoning occasionally features commentary from financial analysts, experts, gold bugs, economists and an array of contributors from various fields and occupations. Their diverse insights and contrarian investing ideas are hand selected by your Daily Reckoning editors.

 

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